First zero-emissions fuel cell ferry in the U.S. arrives in San Francisco

Mar 14, 2023

A new all-electric, zero-emissions ferry arrived in San Francisco by tugboat from Washington state on Sunday, according to San Francisco Chronicle. Considered the first commercial maritime vessel in the United States powered entirely by hydrogen fuel cell technology, it will begin taking passengers on rides along the San Francisco waterfront in late spring.

Developed with $3 million in state funding, the 75-passenger catamaran called the Sea Change is the part of a push by the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which operates ferry service in a large part of the bay, to eventually phase out diesel ferries, which produce black puffs of noxious pollutants as they chug through the water.

The agency also plans to roll out battery-electric ferries soon (in a separate program, the Angel Island Ferry Co. plans to electrify its ferry between Tiburon and the island next year). The fuel cell electric ferry is a pilot project meant to demonstrate another zero-emissions alternative for passenger ferries and the larger shipping industry, which at almost 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions has a bigger carbon footprint than air transportation.

The Sea Change can operate for 16 hours before being refueled at the end of the day from a tank at the harbor, similar to the diesel ferries in the fleet. The major difference is that the only emissions are water vapor.

The California Air Resources Board provided the $3 million grant to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to work with Switch Maritime and other companies to develop the technology used in the Sea Change, part of $20 million in grants from cap-and-trade auction proceeds for advanced technology vehicles and equipment. 

Because it’s the first, the Sea Change — at 70 feet long — is smaller than most passenger ferries that operate in San Francisco Bay. It also moves slower, typically operating at around 11 knots (13 mph) compared to larger diesel ferries that traverse the bay at 34 knots (40 mph).

The ferry cost about $14 million to build; additional vessels will be cheaper, likely costing 30% more to make than traditional diesel ferries.

In a recent open letter, a coalition of environmental groups called on the California Air Resources Board to adopt a zero-emission standard for all marine vessels by 2040, citing health risks caused by pollution at harbors and during shipping.

The Water Emergency Transportation Authority plans to exceed the state’s requirement to transfer its fleet to zero emissions by 2025 on all short routes.

source:Port News