A San Francisco-based sightseeing cruise line called The Red and White Fleet has taken on a new project. Certainly, if it's successful it will improve things for the company, but it could have much wider implications for the shipping industry in general. They want to develop, build, and deploy a fleet of ferries that run on hydrogen fuel cells instead of diesel engines. You may think that's not that big of a deal, you know, ships, but here's something you may not know: ships create about a third of all emissions world-wide. So this could be a very big deal.
The project is called SF-BREEZE (San Francisco Bay Renewable Energy Electric vessel with Zero Emissions). The aim is to design, build and operate a high-speed hydrogen fuel cell passenger ferry. If the pessimist in you is asking: ‘Yeah, but where are they going to get the hydrogen?' well, they've thought of that. The other half of the project is the creation of the largest hydrogen refueling station in the world.
Just a refresher here on the precise benefits of hydrogen fuel cells over the diesel engines that power most passenger ferries: Hydrogen fuel cells create no emissions. They are way more efficient, much quieter to operate, and pose no risk of fuel spills. If hydrogen fuel cell could start replacing diesel engines and generators both air and water quality could greatly improve in harbor areas.
"Everyone is talking about reducing emissions by 20 percent, 40 percent or more," says Tom Escher the Red and White Fleet's president. "I thought, 'Why not do away with emissions altogether?'" Well, apparently his idea was good enough to get a few other entities involved, and this is not just the local pretzel stand. How about Sandia National Laboratories for starters? Sandia recently signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Red and White Fleet.
But Sandia's not the only co-stake holder in this project, not by a long shot. Others who have signed on include the American Bureau of Shipping, the U.S. Coast Guard and naval architect Elliott Bay Design Group, as well as the California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board and the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development.
"We are involving so many stakeholders up front because if the feasibility study shows a 'go' we want to make sure the next phase has a rock-solid foundation," says Joe Pratt, a mechanical engineer, and the Sandia project lead. "We hope that the feasibility study, regardless of the outcome, can be useful to others nationally and around the world who are looking at hydrogen fuel cell vessels as clean energy alternatives."