First hydrogen fuel-cell vessel: San Francisco ferry ready to go

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A hydrogen fuel-cell ferry is currently undergoing trials ahead of planned passenger operations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Owner Switch Maritime claims it will be the world’s first commercial vessel powered solely by hydrogen fuel cells.

Dubbed Sea Change, the ferry is a 70-foot, 75-passenger catamaran that, Switch claims, will have the same operational capabilities as conventional diesel boats, but with zero emissions and lower maintenance needs.

Onboard hydrogen tanks have a storage capacity of 246 kilograms, and the fuel cells are supplemented by a 100-kwh battery pack. Electricity generated by the fuel cells powers a pair of 300-kw (402-horsepower) electric motors. Estimated range is 300 nautical miles, with a top speed of 23 mph, according to Switch.

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A fuel-cell ferry for San Francisco was first proposed in 2015, but the Sea Change appears to be the first such vessel to be completed. Small numbers of battery-electric commercial ships have been built for use in Norway and other countries, however.

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The Sea Change uses fuel cells from Cummins. While best known for diesel engines, the company is looking to commercialize fuel-cell tech. It’s also pushing hydrogen fuel-cell semi trucks as alternative to its own diesels.

The future for fuel cells is increasingly looking farther from passenger vehicles and toward industry and trains, ships, or possibly planes. Toyota, Hyundai, and General Motors have created modularized fuel-cell systems for such purposes over the past several years. This approach sidesteps many of the issues that have held back fuel-cell cars, while focusing an applications that may be difficult to electrify with batteries.

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