The hydrogen-powered ferry premieres in San Francisco

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

For more than a century, residents have been traveling across San Francisco Bay on ferries that run primarily on diesel – a fossil fuel that warms the planet. But now the first hydrogen-powered passenger ferry in the world that does not cause any emissions is casting off in the bay.

“Instead of a big diesel engine turning things to make electricity … [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-person catamaran.

The hydrogen-powered ferry called Sea Change does not run on the standard diesel engine.

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“When you’re actually using hydrogen to generate electricity, the only by-product is literally hot water, which is zero emissions and absolutely clean,” said Ron Willie, company president.

The maritime shipping industry, mostly international shipping, is one of the dirty and not-so-small secrets of climate change. It causes around 3% of all global carbon dioxide emissions, which is more than CO2 emissions from the aviation industry.

A much larger hydrogen powered ferry is currently 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 is a lot of hope and promise, but for it to really move forward – to protect the climate we need to understand what the leak potential really is,” said Amanda Leland, executive director of the Environmental Protection Fund.

Back in Bellingham, they take pride in building a cleaner future in America.

“I really think it’s going to be a game changer as things move forward,” said Willie.

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

CBS news

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