Technology

Group to fund and operate first hydrogen fuel ferry fleet in the US

On Wednesday, a plan to put hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferries in US waters moved forward as startup Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM) announced a partnership with Switch Maritime, an impact investment fund that will finance and operate a fleet of such vessels.

GGZEM received a $3 million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last November to build a 70-foot, 84-passenger, hydrogen fuel cell-powered boat. Named the Water-Go-Round, the vessel will be used to take passengers across the San Francisco Bay. The ferry, which is currently under construction in Alameda, California, is expected to be complete in September. After its completion, it will undergo three months of testing so researchers can gather data on its performance.

Switch Maritime (sometimes styled SW/TCH) is the new operator of the ferry, and it hopes to decarbonize water transport throughout the United States. The company recently announced another project in New York City to build a battery-powered ferry, which will be completed after the Water-Go-Round‘s debut. Switch says it “plans to work with existing ferry operators on both coasts to provide capital to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission modes of transit,” according to a press release.

A different fuel problem

While building a hydrogen-powered ferry is a start, the real trouble with hydrogen fuel cells is the fuel. GGZEM, the company that’s building the boat, grew out of an academic project from Sandia Laboratories. Sandia’s researchers found that hydrogen-powered vessels offered a number of benefits over their diesel-powered counterparts. Unfortunately, one of those benefits was not overall emissions reduction when conventionally made hydrogen gas was used. Currently, most hydrogen is synthesized from methane and must be carefully stored and transported to its destination, making it pretty much on-par with simply burning diesel fuel in terms of lifetime emissions.

But Joe Pratt, GGZEM’s CEO and CTO, told Ars that hydrogen carries non-emissions-related benefits. “The Water-Go-Round will be refueled directly from a delivery truck at the dock in the same way that many diesel boats are fueled today, with the main difference being that hydrogen refueling carries no risk of fuel spills into the water.”

That said, hydrogen can also be synthesized with renewable energy using water electrolysis. Both GGZEM and Switch Maritime see this as the end-goal for the San Francisco ferry. Pace Ralli, the CEO and founder of Switch, told Ars that the group has plans to work with a company called Clean Marine Energy to build renewable fueling infrastructure “for the Water-Go-Round and the future expanded fleet.” Ralli said that more information on this would be divulged after the ferry is complete.

Listing image by Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine / Switch Maritime

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