Decarbonised fleet builder takes over US hydrogen fuel-cell ferry project

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An innovative hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferry project has been taken over by a company aiming to build a fleet of fully decarbonised vessels

The San Francisco-based hydrogen fuel cell-powered Water-Go-Round project has received a boost with investment from SW/TCH Maritime, an investment platform dedicated to maritime decarbonisation.

The vessel, which is currently under construction, will be the first of its kind built in the US, and the first commercially operated hydrogen fuel cell ferry in the world.

Following the investment, SW/TCH Maritime has become the sole owner of the under-construction vessel, and the first customer of hydrogen fuel cell powertrain technology provider Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM).

Designed by Incat Crowther, Water Go Round’s keel was laid in November 2018 at Bay Ship & Yacht Co of Alameda. Other partners in the project include both industry players such as BAE Systems, Hydrogenics and Hexagon Composites; and institutions and public bodies such as Sandia National Laboratories and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The vessel is expected to be completed by September 2019.

Following its launch, Water-Go-Round will undergo a three-month study period in service with local ferry operator Red and White Fleet in San Francisco Bay, with Sandia National Laboratories gathering and assessing performance data. CARB will use this data to assess the technology’s suitability for wider marine use. Prior to SW/TCH taking over ownership, the Water-Go-Round project received a US$3M grant from CARB in June 2018.

“The Water-Go-Round project fits well into SW/TCH’s mandate to build vessels dedicated to decarbonisation,” says SW/TCH co-founder Elias Van Sickle. The company sees the shipping industry progressing toward zero emissions, he explains, and over the past two years it has identified both battery-electric and fuel cell technology as sufficiently mature for applications in maritime, making fully zero-emissions vessels feasible.

He adds “SW/TCH is starting with ferries because they have an ideal set of conditions – low capital cost, short routes, frequent fuelling and charging opportunities, and low power requirements – for transitioning to zero emissions technology.

“Once SW/TCH has a number of ferries or “proof points” on the water, it plans to scale its fleet of zero emissions vessels to other vessel types and other markets.”

The 21-m aluminium catamaran will have capacity for 84 passengers. It has a top speed of 22 knots and will be powered by 360 kW worth of fuel cells from hydrogen power specialist Hydrogenics, alongside lithium-ion battery packs. It will carry a 264-kg tank array of 250-bar compressed hydrogen, allowing for up to two full days of operation. Propulsion will come from two 300-kW shaft motors, while 100-kWh batteries in the vessel’s hulls will boost power to achieve full speed.

Mr Van Sickle notes “While there are many efficiency measures that can be taken to lower a ship’s fuel consumption, such as slowing transit speed or creating air bubbles under the hull of a vessel, our view is that switching to cleaner fuels/electrons will produce the largest positive impacts.”

SW/TCH is also planning an all-electric ferry to operate in New York City, but specifics for this project are yet to be announced and the company’s focus is currently the west coast.

When completed, Water-Go-Round will undergo three months of testing in San Francisco Bay

When completed, Water-Go-Round will undergo three months of testing in San Francisco Bay