The ferry of the future is headed for San Francisco

Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, a startup in Alameda, is developing a ferry that will run on hydrogen fuel cells

Grist / Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine

While electric cars advance on solid ground, ships and other vessels are still listing in a fossil-fuel doldrum. Carbon emissions from ships could increase by a whopping 250 percent by 2050, according to the International Maritime Organization, thanks to ballooning populations and bigger economies.

Around the world, there’s an effort underway to reign in pollution from water-borne vessels and get the maritime industry back on course.

A new ferry project in San Francisco could become the tugboat the maritime industry needs to drop fossil fuels. Today, the California Air Resources Boardannounced a $3 million grant to help build the Water-Go-Round, a ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The new ferry, which will be 70 feet long and hold 84 people, should be up and running next fall. The best part? It’s expected to produce zero emissions.

A hydrogen fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity. That means that the only byproduct that will come out of the new ferry will be … water. Pretty cool, right? A bunch of ship projects, mostly in Europe, already use this technology.

The big question is whether hydrogen fuel cells can be used on other kinds of boats. The technology is still pretty expensive, and shipbuilders are more accustomed to working with batteries than hydrogen. But hydrogen prices are on the decline. And if Water-Go-Round’s launch is successful, it might inspire more people to hop aboard the hydrogen fuel cell ship!