Why Your Next Ferry Ride Might Be Powered by Hydrogen

Written By: Mike Gayette
  • 2/9/2022
  • Read Time : 2.5 min.
Redrocks team members, including founder Paul Paterson and director of strategic initiatives, Barush Pletner.

Redrock Power Systems is working hard to adapt hydrogen power to larger marine vessels, like ferries. Their CAD software? Creo.

Why Hydrogen?

Like land vehicles, most marine vessels burn fossil fuels and generate carbon emissions. Although emissions produced by land transportation and energy generation overshadow nearly every other category, there is still an effort to reduce the overall carbon footprint of shipping vessels, cruise ships, and ferries.

While batteries are the go-to green power for cars and pickups, that technology doesn’t scale. A small passenger boat with short hops inside a harbor can make use of a battery, but only if it operates in short bursts and has several recharge cycles during the day.

Larger passenger and vehicle ferries, like those that travel the 165 kilometers between the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, run for several hours and can’t rely on current battery technology. But hydrogen fuel cells scale to megawatt-hours. Those same ferries can employ megawatt-level hydrogen fuel cell systems that supply propulsion, auxiliary load, hotel load, and more.

The Redrock Power Systems Vision

Redrock Power Systems, based in Prince Edward Island, Canada, aims to revolutionize the marine industry by adapting zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cells to larger vessels. The company was founded in 2017 by Paul Paterson (see image above, left), who brought years of technical experience from his work on fuel cells at Ballard Power Systems.

Paterson soon brought renowned engineer Baruch Pletner (image above, right) onboard as the Director of Strategic Initiatives. Pletner is soft-spoken, but frank. He wastes no time diving into Redrock’s mission of ensuring that vessels like ferries, essential for moving people and cargo across wide channels, play their part in securing a greener future. Other applications are on the horizon, too,

“The purpose at Redrock isn’t to reinvent the fuel cell. We take a hydrogen fuel cell stack, like one from Ballard, and build everything around it that you need for mobility,” he says. “The idea is to commercialize hydrogen power plants for use in marine vessels, and eventually other large vehicles like mining trucks and locomotives.

Ultimately, the result is a reduction in the use of fossil fuels in vehicles that normally use heavy-duty diesel engines.”

“It’s Like a Loaf of Bread”: Hydrogen Cells Explained

Pletner starts with an explanation of the fuel cell stack itself, which is made up of a stack of membranes. “It looks something like a loaf of bread. Each slice makes a little bit of power by taking hydrogen and reacting it with oxygen,” he says.

Once enough of these layers are stacked, the individual voltages add up to a significant amount of power generation. But that’s just the beginning.

“Alone, a plain fuel cell stack is not useful to anybody,” Pletner continues, “You need to supply it with compressed air and apply it to the hydrogen in a specific way. You need to also cool it with a de-ionized water unit, so you’re building a little chemical plant around the fuel cell.”

Then there’s the equipment that allows the boat to use the generated power. Pletner explains, “You have to provide a housing for all these things and some automation controls. You have to communicate with it so that if the vessel needs more or less power, or if there is an emergency situation, it can be resolved and there are not safety issues. So that entire support system around the hydrogen fuel cell is what we are building.”

Design Software of Choice? Creo and the PTC Creators ProgramTM

Designing that infrastructure takes modern, high-powered design tools. Over the past several decades, Pletner has used nearly every CAD product on the market. For the new company, he carried out a thorough review of every major suite, and ultimately settled on Creo and the PTC Creators Program.


Redrock Power Systems Design created in Creo.
Image: Design for system created in Creo.


The Creators Program provides innovative new product developers with PTC software, plus support and training.

“The Creators Program is really well conceived because it’s so fully-featured right off the bat. It’s great for startups. It has everything you need to develop your business. Not enough startups are taking advantage of it,” says Pletner.

That everything-you-need part includes the ability to bypass antiquated ideas in favor of data-driven methodologies.

Pletner describes what it does for his team, “I push very hard to not do simple extrusion piping in our designs, like how it was done years ago. Some engineers resist change. They learn something in school on their copy of SolidWorks or Autodesk, and that’s how they like to do it. And I said ‘no, we have to advance.’”

For example? “The spec-driven piping works very well for us,” he says. “It’s a feature of Creo Piping and Cabling Extension we’re really enjoying.”

Of course, as a scrappy startup, Redrock Power Systems looked to two other advantages: cost savings and productivity. The Creators Program fit the budget, while Creo kept engineers engaged on the work instead of switching screens and tasks.

Pletner adds, “We chose PTC for money and functionality. The pricing for the Creators Program was a leading factor. The other factor is the ability of Creo to have the design and data on the same screen. We really appreciate the productivity gains when you don’t have to leave your design environment. You can basically just click on a button and you’re in Creo Simulate or Creo Flow Analysis. When you change the design, it propagates through to the analysis, and you never leave the Creo window.”

Creo and the Creators Program are making a difference for Redrock Power Systems, both in the bottom line and hitting deadlines. The company is currently working on outfitting a ferry in Stockholm that will run on a 1.2MW hydrogen fuel system, and more big projects are on the horizon.


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About the Author

Mike Gayette

Mike Gayette is a marketing professional and freelance writer based in North Dakota. He writes about engineering software, marketing technology, customer service, and team building. He also spends time at the local humane society as a dog walker and cat entertainer.