Is hydrogen the future of green energy? SoCalGas backs testing of hydrogen fuel cell technology for marine vessels

A vessel docks at the Port of Long Beach. (Courtesy Port of Long Beach)

Southern California Gas Co. announced today it will provide $200,000 in funding for a project aimed at developing a zero-emissions solution for small commercial marine vessels by modifying a commercial boat with a hydrogen fuel cell in place of a combustion engine.

The fuel cell technology developed by Zero Emission Industries, formerly Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, has the potential to “vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from thousands of small commercial boats throughout California including patrol, fishing, fire, rescue, ferry, taxi, recreational and other vessels,” according to the utility.

“SoCalGas is committed to helping California reach its climate goals, and we look at how we can support reducing GHG emissions in every sector,” said Neil Navin, vice president of clean energy innovations at SoCalGas.

“We recently announced our pledge to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045, and our work with the CEC (California Energy Commission) and ZEI to develop fuel cell technology for commercial boats could aid this commitment,” he said. “This innovative technology has the potential to decrease pollution in California in a meaningful way.”

See Related: Energy Observer, first round-the-world hydrogen-powered vessel, docks at Rainbow Harbor for first-ever US stopover

The California Energy Commission is providing $2 million for the project, which will test a commercial marine vessel modified to incorporate a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.

While boats are typically propelled with a combustion engine, the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain will use the latest automotive-style fuel cell technology and will be designed to optimize overall performance, with boat speeds ranging from a few knots to more than 50 knots.

The boat will be fueled with hydrogen through mobile portable systems developed by ZEI for marine vessel fueling, using hydrogen sourced from California’s retail hydrogen stations. The project will demonstrate the vessel for six months, split between the San Francisco Bay and Long Beach.

“With California being home to over 1 million vessels, 98% of which are under 40 feet long, developing a small fast zero-emission vessel solution will have a profound impact on the market, the economy and air quality,” ZEI CEO Joseph Pratt said.

The Long Beach and San Francisco ports and two commercial boating companies, Red and White Fleet and Harbor Breeze Cruises, will assist ZEI in testing the technologies.

“As California works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from various sectors within our state, I am thrilled to see SoCalGas, in partnership with the CEC and Zero Emission Industries, leading and supporting the development of innovative technologies to help meet the state’s goals,” said Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach.

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