Acid Test For Hydrogen Versus Battery Electric Transport

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Both hydrogen and battery fans have something new to discuss around the water cooler. The world’s first hydrogen powered ferry boat has been under construction in San Francisco, and there is also a battery powered ferry in the works for New York City. It’s a classic west coast/east coast matchup, and to add a little extra spice the same investor group is behind the same two vessels.

Image: SW/TCH Maritime

A Zero Emission Hydrogen Ferry For San Francisco…

The investor group managing this waterborne juggling act is SW/TCH Maritime, which bills itself as “an impact investment platform to build North America’s first fleet of maritime vessels dedicated exclusively to decarbonization.”

Do tell! The company’s New York City e-ferry is still in the design phase, which gives hydrogen propulsion a head start.

The hydrogen boat, dubbed Water-go-Round, began life in 2017 as a venture of the company Golden Gate Zero Emissions Marine.

The project caught the CleanTechnica eye partly because of the zero emissions angle (more on that later), and partly because the firm Incat Crowther — known for its futuristic styling — was tapped for design chores.

Sandia National Laboratories is also involved in the project, so there’s that. Rounding out the picture are the companies BAE Systems and Hydrogenics.

As of last December, the Water-go-Round was set to launch sometime this year.

…And A Zero Emission Battery-Powered Ferry For NYC

Meanwhile over in New York City, SW/TCH has some ambitious e-transport plans in mind that could translate over to San Francisco.

The idea is to provide for a seamless door-to-door zero emission commute. So, in addition to a battery powered ferry ride, the company also anticipates coordinating with land-going electric modes including vans, passenger cars, e-bikes, and e-scooters (basically, whatever is street legal).

The company’s website includes a nifty video explaining the “zero emissions, zero stress” concept, but the devil is in the details. All kinds of transportation planners have been struggling with the same so-named “last mile” challenge of getting people from their mass transit to their doorstep, and it ain’t easy.

The Hydrogen Behind The Water-Go-Round

Speaking of that devil in the details, fans of electric transportation have a good reason to cheer the rise of renewable energy and the death of coal power.

Less coal in the grid mix translates into lower greenhouse gas emissions at the power source as well as at the tailpipe.

That low hanging carbon grape is also within the reach of hydrogen-powered transportation, but it will take some more elbow grease. Currently, most of the world’s hydrogen comes from fossil natural gas.

Golden Gate Zero Emissions Marine has been counting on the commercialization of technology that produces hydrogen from renewable resources, using renewable energy to power the process. The name Water-go-Round is a reference to electrolysis-based systems that jar hydrogen gas loose from water molecules.

Various renewable hydrogen systems are already in the works at demonstration scale, so that’s not just a pipe dream.

For now, though, it looks like SW/TCH is in position to source its hydrogen from whatever source is handiest. The firm has partnered with Clean Marine Energy, and one focus of that company’s attention is the construction of a new liquid natural gas facility in Jacksonville, Florida.

CleanTechnica has reached out to SW/TCH to see what its plans for renewable hydrogen are, so stay tuned for more on that.

We’re also asking SW/TCH if it is already thinking of going with hydrogen or batteries for the zero emission fleet of the future, or if it is going to wait and see how the two vessels perform.

The  press release announcing the SW/TCH investment plays it close to the vest, grouping the San Francisco and NYC projects under the category of e-ferries that “will use all-electric propulsion powered either by hydrogen fuel cells or batteries that are charged with shore power.”

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Update: SW/CH replied to CleanTechnica with additional information:
SW/TCH will be collecting data and learning from the Water Go Round, and analyzing the benefits of both hydrogen fuel cell power and battery power, in different operational profiles. They each have advantages in certain uses (eg. shorter routes could be a good fit for batteries, as well as uses that require longer loading periods at shore to allow for charging, whereas fuel cell could be better for longer range uses that would require more battery costs). So it depends, but we’ll continue to use our vessels to analyze and compare the technologies and work with partners to advance designs and applications.

SW/TCH plans to source renewable hydrogen for its commercial operations as soon as it is feasible following the CARB [California Air Resources Board] demonstration.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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