Aug 24, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Sea change: a passenger ferry powered by hydrogen

Rendering of the Sea Change, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferry near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Rendering of the Sea Change, a ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which is coming soon to the San Francisco Bay. Image: SWITCH Maritime

The country's first vessel powered by hydrogen fuel cells is undergoing trials and could begin passenger service this year in San Francisco Bay.

Why it matters: The 70-foot, 75-passenger ferry represents an important step in the U.S. maritime industry’s effort to transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner methods of propulsion.

Driving the news: The vessel, dubbed Sea Change, was launched last week by All American Marine, a shipyard based in Bellingham, Washington, and SWITCH Maritime, an investment company focused on zero-emissions maritime vessels.

How it works: The Sea Change runs on electricity generated by a 360-kilowatt fuel cell system.

  • Compressed hydrogen gas stored in 10 onboard tanks flows to the fuel cells, where it mixes with air, creating electricity that powers a pair of 402-horsepower electric motors. The only byproduct is water.
  • When the boat is idling or traveling at low speeds, excess electricity is stored in a 100-kilowatt battery until needed.
  • The estimated range is 300 nautical miles.

What to watch: SWITCH still needs U.S. Coast Guard approval to transport the vessel to California, where it will be leased to an existing ferry operator to begin commercial operation.

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