FutureStructure

Builders Lay Keel of Country's First Hydrogen-Fueled Ferry

What’s being built by Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine and Bay Ship & Yacht Co. on the Alameda side of the Oakland Estuary will be the nation’s first passenger ferry fueled by hydrogen fuel cells.

by Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle / November 9, 2018

(TNS) — Not many large maritime vessels get built in the San Francisco Bay Area anymore, but even fewer hydrogen fuel-cell ferries get constructed anywhere.

That began to change on Thursday as Bay Area boat builders, ferry operators and state and regional clean-air officials gathered in an Alameda shipyard for a keel-laying ceremony, a maritime tradition that marks the beginning of a vessel’s construction.

What’s being built by Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine and Bay Ship & Yacht Co. on the Alameda side of the Oakland Estuary will be the nation’s first passenger ferry fueled by hydrogen fuel cells.

Depending on how quickly it’s built, it could be finished before a similar vessel under construction in Europe and become the world’s first, said Richard Maguire, business development manager for Bay Ship, which typically fixes up older ships.

“It’s a rare day we get to use the words ‘first of its kind,’” he said.

Hydrogen fuel-cell technology combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity to run a motor. While they’re expensive, hydrogen fuel-cell cars are produced and sold by a handful of auto manufacturers. And AC Transit runs a small fleet of fuel-cell buses in regular service. Gov. Jerry Brown has pushed for more zero-emission vehicles of all types.

Nearly all maritime vessels are powered by diesel, emitting billowing clouds of black smoke. Campaigns to put more ferries on San Francisco Bay have sometimes met opposition from critics who complain that they pollute more than other forms of public transportation.

“We’re making the transition from old and dirty to clean and new,” said John Gioia, a Contra Costa County supervisor and member of the California Air Resources Board.

The ferry, known as Water-Go-Round, is expected to be ready to ply the bay before the end of 2019, Maguire said. He said Bay Ship will wait until all the pieces for the ferry are manufactured and delivered, then assemble it all at once.

When it’s done, it will be plunked into the estuary and operated by Red & White Fleet, which runs tour boats on the bay. Joe Pratt, CEO of Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, said the Water-Go-Round will be a two-propeller aluminum catamaran with a propeller on each hull. At full power, it will reach a speed of 22 knots, slower than the Alameda/Oakland ferries but about average ferry speed, he said.

The Water-Go-Round will be 70 feet long and able to carry 84 passengers.

Tom Escher, Red & White’s president, predicted that the new hydrogen-fueled ferry will quickly propagate.

“I see the Water-Go-Round as a seed,” he said, “and when you add water to a seed, it grows. This seed is going to grow into other ferries, fishing boats, cargo ships. This is the seed that’s going to do it.”

©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.