ALAMEDA (KPIX 5) — The Bay Area is three to four months away from the launch of the world’s first zero-emission commercial vessel powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
At Bay Shop & Yacht Co in Alameda, crews were busy constructing the lower portion of the ship, welding the framework that will house the twin electric motors, and applying the aluminum “skin”.
Dr. Joe Pratt, CEO of Golden Gate Zero Emissions Marine, helped to coordinate the large contingent of technology partners who collaborated to develop the technology. Pratt’s company provided the expertise in transferring the hydrogen fuel to the cells, and integrating the various systems.
“It’s been a dream for a long time. At one point, we decided we need to stop talking about it, and we need to build it. And that’s what we’re doing right now,” said Pratt.
Dubbed the “Water-Go-Round”, the 70-foot ferry will carry up to 84 passengers at speeds of up to 22 knots, powered by two 400 horsepower engines. The hydrogen ferry is unlike conventional diesel, which submit passengers and the environment to noxious fumes from the fuel itself, as well as the exhaust.
According to Pratt, the battery on the Water-Go-Round will last up to three days, is equivalent to removing up to 400 cars off the road everyday, and is nearly silent.
“You’ll have no smoke, no noise, it’s gonna be kinda like riding on a sailboat, where the only thing you hear is the waves and the seagulls,” said Pratt.
Richard Maguire, director of business development for Bay Ship & Yacht, says the new ferry is currently priced at $6 million, well over the average cost of a conventional diesel-powered ferry at $2 million. But operators should be able to recoup cost savings in fuel and maintenance, as hydrogen fuel prices continue to decline, and diesel fuel trends upward.
Maguire says the Netherlands is reportedly also planning to build a hydrogen-powered ferry, but they have not yet begun construction.
“Most people remember who the first person who landed on the moon is. But they kind of have a hard time remembering the second guy. So being the first in the world is nerve-racking, because everyone is watching you. But at the same time it’s super exciting to be involved in this endeavor,” said Maguire.
Pace Ralli, co-founder of SW/TCH, the New York-based startup that owns the Water-Go-Round, said it is the first of three vessels to be built. The vessels will be funded in part by a $3 million grant from the California Air Resource Board that was secured by Golden Gate Zero Emissions Marine.
The company founders hope that — once the technology is proven out — more municipalities and government agencies will adopt it.
“We’ve been waiting for the cost of technologies, battery power, the cost of battery and the cost of hydrogen fuel cell to come down. It’s likely to follow a path of microchips and solar. As those costs come down, you’ll start to see more rapid adoption. It’s not to late, we’re just getting started, we have so much good work to do ahead of us. Hopefully this is just the beginning,” said Ralli.
The Water-Go-Round is set to launch in the San Francisco Bay in late September or October 2019.