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Hydrogen-powered ferry to debut in San Francisco

▶ Watch Video: Hydrogen-powered ferry launched to combat climate change

The future of sea travel could be here — and it might help save the planet. 

For more than a century, residents have traveled around San Francisco Bay with ferry boats powered mostly by diesel — a planet-warming fossil fuel. But now, the world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger ferry, which produces zero emissions, is launching in the bay. 

“Instead of a big diesel engine spinning things to make power … [it] just happens here in the fuel cells,” said Jeff Sokolik, who works for All American Marine, the Bellingham, Washington, company that built the 75-passenger catamaran. 

The hydrogen-powered ferry, name Sea Change, doesn’t run on the standard diesel engine.

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“When you actually use hydrogen to create electricity, the only byproduct is literally hot water, so it’s zero emissions and completely clean,” said Ron Willie, the president of the company.

The marine-based shipping industry, mostly international shipping, is one of the dirty and not so little secrets of climate change. It causes about 3% of all global carbon dioxide gas emissions, which is more than the CO2 emissions from the airline industry.

A much larger hydrogen-powered ferry is now being built in Europe, and the technology could eventually be applied to container ships.

But there is a downside: if hydrogen leaks during production or from its tanks, it contributes to global warming.

“There’s a lot of hope and promise around it, but in order for it to really move forward — in order for the climate to be protected, we need to understand what the leak potential really is,” said Amanda Leland, the executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Back in Bellingham, they’re proud that a cleaner future is being built in America.

“Really think it’s gonna be a game changer as things move forward,” Willie said.

The only byproduct of the hydrogen-powered engine that Sea Change runs on is hot water.

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