Hydrogen fuel cell technology is complex and ZEI’s mission is to break down the obstacles to adoption. ZEI is the only company in the world with a proven solution to decarbonize the world’s boats and ships, using technology that can meet operational demands and satisfy regulators. Our team of hydrogen and marine experts accomplishes this by creating technical innovations that address specific technical, regulatory, and usage challenges in the marine use case. We have already built the world’s first commercial hydrogen fuel cell vessel and are now iterating on the technology to make it less expensive, smaller and lighter, and much faster to deploy.
Before co-founding and serving as CEO/CTO of Zero Emission Industries, Dr. Joe Pratt worked as Principal Member of the Technical Staff at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories. While in this position Joe led a program designed to break down the market barriers to adoption for hydrogen fuel cell power. This was done through studies and pilot demonstrations involving hundreds of commercialization stakeholders in areas such as aircraft power, construction equipment, handheld devices, generators, backup power, port equipment, and hydrogen fueling stations. In 2013 he started examining the market fit for hydrogen fuel cells for marine vessels.
Joe founded Sandia’s Zero Emission Maritime Program, supported jointly by the US DOE and US Maritime Administration, and later the Zero Emission Hydrogen Vessel Working Group, a collection of over 400 industry, policy, regulatory, academic, and financial stakeholders representing over 100 entities across more than 20 countries.
One day Joe got an inquiry from Thomas Escher, owner of San Francisco’s Red and White Fleet tour boat company founded by his grandfather Thomas Crowley in 1892. Tom asked a question that would change the future of zero emission power for maritime:
"What about fuel cells for ferries?"
The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Project at Honolulu Harbor, to which Dr. Pratt served as a Project Manager
Intrigued, Joe took this question back to Sandia and, with many collaborators, began a feasibility and vessel design study to see whether hydrogen fuel cells could actually be a zero emission solution for high-speed passenger ferries. The landmark “SF-BREEZE” report issued in 2016 answered this question with an emphatic Yes, describing in detail the technical, regulatory, and economic aspects of deploying real hydrogen fuel cell commercial vessels.
Excited by the results, Joe and the team extended the SF-BREEZE study to five other passenger vessel types in 2017 in the search for the best near-term vessel markets, and the result again showed the practicality of hydrogen fuel cell powered vessels from small water taxis to large vehicle ferries. For Joe, this immediately begged the question:
What is the realistic limit for fuel cell powered vessels?
(1) Initial design review meeting at Elliott Bay Design Group. (2) Project kickoff meeting at DOT/MARAD. (3)Regulatory review meeting at ABS including members of the project team and USCG. (4) Regulatory review meeting at USCG Sector San Francisco.
Answer: there isn’t one. The oft-cited “Practical Application Limits of Fuel Cells and Batteries for Zero Emission Vessels” report found that hydrogen fuel cells can power nearly all vessels in the world’s fleet from the smallest fishing boats up to the largest container ships without compromising their cargo capacity or mission. At the same time the work revealed that batteries can serve a role in the zero emission ecosystem, but are not viable as sole providers of power for most commercial vessels due to their much higher weight and larger volume.
These reports created the technical foundation that produced the hydrogen fuel cell marine market as we know it today, and kick-started intense interest in adopting fuel cells for maritime.. Unfortunately the operators looking to deploy the technology had nobody to provide the systems. Knowing the technology works, and seeing the intense demand in the market, Joe had to ask himself:
The Emma Maersk, one of the largest containerships in use today, is one of the many vessels Dr. Pratt and his team concluded as having an operating profile viable for hydrogen fuel cell use.
Joe realized that writing reports about the ability of hydrogen fuel cells to power marine vessels wasn’t enough. In the ultra-concervative maritime industry it is critical to show unequivocal proof of a new technology before it is adopted. So in 2018 Joe left Sandia and co-founded Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM) to provide commercial hydrogen fuel cell power systems to the marine market. The small team quickly put together a team of key industry partners and won a $3 million grant from the California Air Resources Board to build the first hydrogen fuel cell passenger ferry in the United States.
The vessel, named the Water-Go-Round, would provide the proof that zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell technology works for commercial marine vessels. The project signified another important milestone: a shared belief in a “show not tell” philosophy that continues to be a core characteristic of the company today.
Marketing material created for the Water-Go-Round at the start of the project
The Keel Laying Ceremony for the Water-Go-Round, a commemorative event to announce the official start of a vessel build
While under construction the Water-Go-Round was gaining massive attention throughout the maritime community and as vessel owners’ knowledge of fuel cell technology grew so too did their interest in owning a zero emission fuel cell powered vessel. GGZEM received inquiries regarding the development of hydrogen systems for vessel owners from all over the world. Among these inquiries were Switch Maritime, a low- and zero-emission vessel owner out of the East Coast of the United States, that was interested in purchasing the Water-Go-Round.
With an opportunity to pre-sell the Water-Go-Round and achieve a goal of proving the commercial demand for fuel cells in maritime GGZEM couldn't be more excited. In the 2nd Quarter of 2019 Switch Maritime purchased and renamed GGZEM's hydrogen fuel cell ferry to The Sea Change, marking the first time in history that a hydrogen powered vessel was purchased and designated for commercial use, validating the technology and GGZEM’s business proposition at the same time.
Switch Maritime Render
of the Sea Change
Hydrogen fuel cell systems have traditionally been either bulky and expensive or low performance. ZEI is changing all of that by developing, from the ground up, the most powerful, smallest, least expensive maritime hydrogen fuel cell system in history. This is an extremely difficult task but highlights another inherent characteristic of ZEI: tackle the most difficult problems head-on in order to provide what the market really needs to succeed.
This revolutionary powertrain will be showcased on a “small fast harbor craft” on San Francisco Bay and in Long Beach, CA.
These types of vessels perform a multitude of tasks including patrol, fire/rescue, fishing, pilot, excursion, ferry/taxi, and recreation, and speed can range from a few knots to over 50 knots. California is home to over 1 million boats, and more than 98% of them are under 40 feet long, and millions more around the globe. Powering them with hydrogen fuel cells would eliminate a significant source of air pollution and GHG emissions.
ZEI has been awarded $2 million of grant funding from the California Energy Commission to develop and deploy this powertrain and vessel, and also deployment of ZEI’s portable refueling solution which allows quick and easy fueling of any boat, anywhere, without any infrastructure.
"At Watershed Innovation, our focus is on creating a better tomorrow today for boaters and for the world around us. From a sustainability perspective, different use cases require different solutions. We cannot be an expert in all of them, and that is why we work with others. When it comes to hydrogen, Joe and the team at ZEI share our vision for a higher purpose and our passion for solving problems. We are excited to be working with them on this groundbreaking project."Learn More About
-Sean Marrero, President of Watershed Innovation
From the years of hydrogen experience at National Labs as well as putting the "show not tell" philosophy to practice with two major hydrogen fuel cell showcases the ZEI team identifies critical technology challenges in the market to which there are few or no currently available solutions. ZEI's individual and team reputation and exposure has given us exclusive access in a variety of market segments. These insights allow us to aggressively target the solutions and products that have the highest impact in the market.
2022 marked the beginning of ZEI's push toward wide commercialization of the hydrogen technology solutions we’ve developed. Our solutions will not only have significant value themselves, but also act as market adoption force multipliers rapidly opening new markets and significantly increasing maturity in existing markets. Our team will never stop developing revolutionary products that make it quick and easy for anyone to adopt hydrogen power.
The Sea Change operating under fuel cell power