If Paul Paterson can get his idea for a green cross-lake ferry between Toronto and Niagara off the ground, he doesn’t want to be slow about it — but he does want to be careful.
The founder of Redrock Power Systems said he’ll be very deliberate, ensuring his company is in lock step with Ports Toronto, the City of St. Catharines and appropriate stakeholders for a painless process.
“We’re in no rush,” Paterson said by phone from Charlottetown, P.E.I. “I know probably commuters would like to have this solution in place ASAP, but on the other hand, if it’s going to be sustainable and last basically forever, we want to make sure we get it right the first time.”
Charlottetown-based Redrock Power Systems is a startup that focuses predominantly on hydrogen fuel cell technology for marine applications. He said most ferries operate on diesel.
The company recently received $15,000 towards a $35,000 technology and commercial feasibility study for a zero-emissions ferry on Lake Ontario from the federal government’s clean transportation system research and development program. The new program will invest $2.4 million over four years to support projects that advance clean technology innovations or practises in the marine, rail and aviation sectors.
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Paterson said the market for his company’s fuel cell technology in the marine industry is predominantly in Scandinavia right now. But he said it’s difficult for Redrock to participate in those markets when they don’t have anything in their own backyard in Canada to point to as a reference to lend them credibility.
“We need to build a local green clean marine project in order to participate in those international markets,” he said.
Trying to attract an established operator isn’t easy, Paterson said, because companies can be enthusiastic about clean and green but may not have the money to invest in that technology right now. So they’re going to have to build a brand-new line in order to test the technology so they can access those foreign markets.
“As we looked across Canada and evaluated different geographies and needs, it seems like the St. Catharines to Toronto run just stood out far and beyond as one of the most predominantly needy areas in need of a solution,” he said.
The study will determine what technology and commercial situation has to be in place in order to move forward with actual ferry deployment. The results, if favourable, will form a business case to bring on investors. Paterson said the aim is to finish the study this year.
The company’s real stake is related to the technology they want to develop that can be applied across Canada and the world. While environmentally ferries have been introduced in other areas, Paterson said it hasn’t been done at high-speeds or over fairly long distances. His company is hoping to get passengers from Niagara to Toronto in an hour at the most.
At least three companies tried to run commuter travel operations across Lake Ontario between Niagara and Toronto in the late 1990s but none lasted. Paterson said commute times are longer now and those ferries may have been more successful today.
The start point from Niagara hasn’t been chosen, but his company is looking at Port Dalhousie, among other places. Early concepts involve 150 passengers with one departure in the morning and one return in the evening. The ferry would not be ice capable and would operate as long as the lake hasn’t frozen.
The cost of building a ferry could vary widely, depending on whether a new model would have to be built or it they could repurpose an existing vessel.
He said the cities of St. Catharines and Toronto have been supportive.