Hydrogen-Powered Ferry Set to Launch in San Francisco Bay, Revolutionizing Water Transportation

Hydrogen-Powered Ferry Set to Launch in San Francisco Bay, Revolutionizing Water TransportationSource: SWITCH
Tony Ng
Published on July 03, 2023

In a bid to reduce pollution and embrace sustainable transportation alternatives, the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is introducing a hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferry named the Sea Change in August, a significant transformation in the world of maritime transportation, according to Insider.

The $14 million motor vessel will join the San Francisco Bay Ferry network for a six-month pilot project, which aims to explore the viability of hydrogen technology for high-speed passenger ferries, during this time the novel ferry will run between Pier 41 on San Francisco's northern waterfront and the Downtown San Francisco Ferry Terminal conducting four round trips per day, with fares set at just $1 each way, as the San Francisco Bay Ferry network looks toward a greener future, with a goal of replacing half its fleet with zero-emission alternatives by 2035.

Hydrogen fuel cells, which produce electrical energy from the hydrogen in the vessel's tanks, generate only water vapor and condensed water as emissions when combined with oxygen, effectively eliminating the undesirable heat-trapping gases commonly associated with traditional diesel-fueled vessels. In fact, the LA Times revealed that the Sea Change will be the first hydrogen-powered maritime vessel operating commercially in the United States, marking a revolutionary change in the ferrying industry.

Owned by Switch Maritime, a US maritime investment company, the Sea Change will be leased to WETA for the duration of the pilot project, which in turn is part of the larger Sea Change Hydrogen Ferry Demonstration Project—a public-private partnership designed to explore the feasibility of hydrogen technology in the high-speed passenger ferry sector, because “we know the future is zero emissions with marine transportation,” as Thomas Hall, San Francisco Bay Ferry spokesman, told the LA Times.

The six-month trial follows an earlier momentous event in which the Sea Change successfully completed its first fuelling on the San Francisco waterfront and underwent US Coast Guard sea trials, as Riviera Maritime Media reported in late June. The Sea Change Project first began development in 2018, when San Francisco-based Zero Emission Industries won a grant from the California Air Resources Board to construct a world-first hydrogen fuel cell commercial ferry. Now, as WETA seeks to obtain real-world experience and insight into the application of hydrogen technology in the passenger ferry sector, the countdown to the Sea Change's launch in August is undoubtedly igniting excitement.

The ambitious pilot project is backed by the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, and other funding partners who recognize the transformative power of hydrogen fuel cells and the role they can play in creating a greener, more resilient Bay Area. As the technology expands, challenges surrounding limited access to hydrogen fuel must be addressed, but according to Thomas Hall of WETA, "there's some great momentum behind expanding supply and access points."

With its environmental and economic advantages, the Sea Change represents a unique opportunity not only for the San Francisco Bay Ferry network but also for the global maritime transportation industry at large. As the countdown to the ferry's launch in August continues, the world will be watching to see the impact of this novel, eco-friendly transportation on the densely populated city, and ultimately, potentially, transform the face of water transportation forever.