Ocean-going boxships can run on hydrogen and fuel cells: Dr Pratt

Sandia Labs research found no limit in vessel size that could be hydrogen-powered, says CEO of zero-emission ferry project

Image credit: Chevron Marine Lubricants

Updated on 13 Sep 2018 06:55 GMT

The CEO of Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM) - a Californian firm working on the construction of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered passenger ferry - has said that research carried out at Sandia National Laboratories discovered that there was no threshold in vessel size that could be powered by hydrogen.

Speaking during this week's Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, Joseph Pratt, CEO and CTO of GGZEM, discussed his previous work as project manager at Sandia, where he served for seven years and led three programmes (including the 'Zero Emission Maritime' initiative) with a combined budget of more than $7.5m.

"You actually can run a container ship across [the] ocean with hydrogen and a fuel cell system," Dr Pratt explained, citing his previous work at Sandia.

Contrary to what is often claimed, the GGZEM CEO noted that Sandia had not found a limit in vessel size that could be hydrogen-powered.

"Shipping and hydrogen fuel cells aren't topics most investors understand, so education is a major part of this process," he added.

Project beginnings

It was Tom Escher, president of Red and White Fleet - a company that operates a passenger ferry service in San Francisco, and which recently switched its entire fleet to Neste MY Renewable Diesel - who initiated the interest in hydrogen fuel cells in San Francisco and began looking into research being carried out by Sandia.

After sharing his idea of a fuel cell ferry with the lab, this then led to them securing a grant from the US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration to look into the feasibility of building the SF BREEZE (San Francisco Bay Renewable Energy Electric vessel with Zero Emissions).

Fifteen months of research led to the scientists concluding that it was feasible to operate a 149-passenger ferry on hydrogen-filled fuel cells at speeds of up to 35 knots, whilst also meeting regulations.

The findings of the SF BREEZE project then led to the creation, in 2017, of GGZEM - a developer of marine power systems that comply with all current and future environmental regulations. The firm was launched by both Tom Escher and Joe Burgard, executive vice president of Red and White Fleet, together with Dr Pratt.

'Water-Go-Round' project

As previously reported, in June, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) awarded a grant of $3m to GGZEM, in collaboration with partners, to fund the construction of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferry that will provide a passenger service between the ports of San Francisco, Oakland, Redwood City and Martinez.

The 70-foot aluminium catamaran - named the 'Water-Go-Round' in a light-hearted nod to the cyclical nature of how the vessel's technology works (where hydrogen is created from water and becomes water again after being used in a fuel cell) - features a 'zero infrastructure' flexible fuelling arrangement that allows the Water-Go-Round to be refuelled anywhere with truck access.

The total cost of the ferry project has been estimated at $5.5m.