ZEI’s hydrogen-powered craft project gets $2 million grant

Written by Nick Blenkey
Boat on trailer

Formerly known as Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, ZEI is best known for developing the Water-Go-Round ferry (now renamed by the vessel owner the Sea Change). [Image: SW/TCH Maritime]

The California Energy Commission has awarded Zero Emissions Industries (ZEI) a $2 million grant to design, build and test a first-of-its-kind hydrogen fuel cell powered small, fast harbor craft.

Formerly known as Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, ZEI is a Bay area startup, that is led by CEO Dr. Joseph Pratt, focused on hydrogen technology. To date it has been awarded over $5 million in grants to bring its innovative ideas to life.

The company is best known for the Water-Go-Round ferry (now renamed by the vessel owner the Sea Change), the first commercial hydrogen fuel cell vessel in the United States. Construction has been completed on the vessel, and sea trials begin in summer 2021.


ZEI’s latest project includes the development and integration of what it says will be “the most powerful operationally diverse zero emission powertrain in maritime history.” The powertrain will consist of a state-of-the-art hydrogen storage system, fuel cell package, power system, safety system, control and automation system allowing for a powertrain with increased range, simple maintenance, and no emissions.

System overview

The CEC grant will fund the deployment of ZEI’s portable refueling infrastructure, a technological breakthrough designed to solve the f challenge of refueling small boats safely and economically, a barrier that ZEI says has hindered greater potential sales of hydrogen fuel cell vessels.

ZEI says that a small fast zero emission vessel solution will have a profound impact on the market, the economy, and air quality. California is home to over 1 million boats, and more than 98% of them are under 40 feet long. Vessels of that size have a wide variety of uses: patrol, fire/rescue, fishing, pilot, excursion, ferry/taxi, and recreation. Speed can range from a few knots to over 50 knots. There are, however, few, if any, viable zero emission solutions for that market. Powering them with hydrogen fuel cells would eliminate a significant source of GHG emissions.

Danny Terlip, who left the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to join ZEI said, “This exciting project developing a hydrogen powered boat and portable refueling solution will expand the emerging marine hydrogen market in meaningful ways. The work ZEI is doing is cutting edge, complex, impactful and frankly, this kind of work is why I joined the team.”

ZEI partners in the project include Watershed Innovation, a division of Correct Craft, which will work with ZEI to provide a boat hull set to be repowered with hydrogen.

Another project partner, the Advanced Power and Energy Program at the University of California Irvine will collect and process project, vessel and system data to provide clear, unbiased conclusions regarding the performance and usage of the hydrogen systems.

A third partner, Ocean5 Naval Architects, will utilize vessel design, surfacing, hydrostatic analysis, and 3D modeling tools to enable optimum design for everything from the vessel hull to the onboard structures. With experience in first implementation on a variety of vessel types and sizes, Ocean5 will ensure the alignment of the hydrogen system’s operational profile with the structural design of the small fast boat.

Los Angeles based utility SoCalGas, is contributing $200,000 in funding for the project. The utility is advancing numerous low- and zero-carbon energy technologies including a hydrogen blending demonstration program, a solar energy-produced hydrogen program, and a joint natural gas and hydrogen distribution system.

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