Liquor fac­to­ry becomes ship­yard: found­ing cou­ple devel­ops autonomous hydro­gen ferries

(press release) Two devel­op­ers from the auto­mo­tive indus­try are rein­vent­ing mar­itime mobil­i­ty. Soon the first emis­sion-free and autonomous­ly dri­ving high-tech cata­ma­ran will con­nect the Schlei region in Schleswig-Hol­stein. Unleash Future Boats’ envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly propul­sion tech­nol­o­gy can also be used for con­ver­sion for inland water­way and mar­itime trans­port. The start-up is sup­port­ed by the UN, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment and the Fraun­hofer Institute.

Schleswig, April 2021 - What do two car devel­op­ers do when they move to the coast? Log­i­cal, build water taxis. Ste­fanie and Lars Hol­ger Engel­hard want noth­ing less than to rev­o­lu­tionise ship­ping on the Schlei in Schleswig-Holstein.

The two native Bavar­i­ans are devel­op­ing autonomous and envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly ships. They have an elec­tric dri­ve with fuel cell and green hydro­gen. This makes them com­plete­ly emis­sion-free — for the air (car­bon diox­ide or nitro­gen), for the water (lubri­cants or diesel) and with regard to noise pollution.

Now the keel is being laid for the first pro­to­type. For this pur­pose, the start-up has con­vert­ed a for­mer liquor fac­to­ry into a ship­yard. Ini­tial­ly, twelve-metre small “Schlei­boote” will be built there — envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly elec­tric fer­ries for a dozen pas­sen­gers as well as bicy­cles, wheel­chairs and prams, as the boats are bar­ri­er-free thanks to a ramp. From spring 2023, they are to con­nect the city of Schleswig with the UNESCO World Her­itage Site of Haithabu, a Viking muse­um, by water.

The cata­ma­rans are dig­i­tal­ly net­worked. In the sec­ond step, they will shut­tle autonomous­ly between investors and be avail­able “on demand”. “Our goal is for pas­sen­gers to be able to order their water taxi via app, just as is pos­si­ble today with ride ser­vice providers on the road,” says Lars Hol­ger Engel­hard (37).

Unleash Future Boats is the name of the cou­ple’s start-up. The goal: They want to offer mar­itime mobil­i­ty on demand, elec­tri­cal­ly and autonomous­ly. Togeth­er with a dozen ship­build­ing engi­neers, spe­cial­ists in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) and finan­cial pro­fes­sion­als, they are work­ing to change the water trans­port route in a sus­tain­able way.

The “Schlei­boote” are only the first jump into the cold water. In the future, inland water­way ves­sels will also be able to be retro­fit­ted with the inno­v­a­tive hydro­gen dri­ve. “There’s a lot of talk about pol­lu­tant emis­sions from cars,” says Ste­fanie Engel­hard (36). “How­ev­er, the fact that ship­ping is respon­si­ble for two per­cent of all green­house gas emis­sions con­tin­ues to be over­looked. Mar­itime trans­port releas­es a bil­lion tons ofCO2 a year, diesel residues and lubri­cants pol­lute the oceans, and con­ven­tion­al boats are also very noisy.”

The con­cept of Unleash Future Boats finds solu­tions for many cur­rent chal­lenges in mobil­i­ty. In addi­tion to the grow­ing envi­ron­men­tal impact of con­ven­tion­al propul­sion sys­tems, inland nav­i­ga­tion is also strug­gling with low water lev­els in many water­ways, also caused by cli­mate change. The small fer­ries are suit­able for low water. The exist­ing boat mod­els are scal­able in terms of size and could there­fore be used to trans­port peo­ple and goods in cities with many water­ways. “Our tug boats are an attrac­tive con­cept for cities that want to make inner-city trans­port more sus­tain­able,” explains Lars Engel­hard. “We already have sev­er­al inquiries from var­i­ous regions and met­ro­pol­i­tan areas here and abroad.”

Ste­fanie and Lars Hol­ger Engel­hard worked in auto­mo­tive devel­op­ment for many years. They now want to bring the knowl­edge gained there onto the water. “We plan to trans­fer tech­nol­o­gy from auto­mo­tive to mar­itime mobil­i­ty,” the cou­ple says.

Togeth­er with the renowned Fraun­hofer Insti­tute, the start-up has devel­oped the first sen­sors required for autonomous dri­ving on water. “These are dif­fer­ent from those in the auto­mo­tive indus­try, as ships are con­stant­ly sub­ject to rolling move­ments caused by waves and wind,” says Ste­fanie Engelhard.

Lars Hol­ger Engel­hard has a Mas­ter’s degree in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion and holds twelve inter­na­tion­al patents. He is co-founder of an inter­na­tion­al think tank of high­ly gift­ed peo­ple and is him­self high­ly gift­ed. At the VW Group, he was respon­si­ble for the online con­nec­tiv­i­ty of mil­lions of cars. Ste­fanie Engel­hard holds a degree in engi­neer­ing and has dri­ven the devel­op­ment of autonomous con­nect­ed dri­ving at Audi.

Your idea has already been rec­og­nized by the UN as a sus­tain­abil­i­ty project. Pol­i­tics and busi­ness also sup­port the start-up. The Port of Duis­burg, Europe’s largest inland port, is also inter­est­ed in the project and has includ­ed it in its start­port accel­er­a­tor pro­gram. “The idea of ‘Schlei­boote’ offers a lot of poten­tial, for pub­lic trans­port, tourist trips, for house­boats or fish­ing boats as well as for freight trans­port on water,” says inven­tor Lars Hol­ger Engel­hard. By the way, he is still work­ing on one patent: the cap­tain’s patent.

Press con­tact

Agency for mar­ket­ing and communication
— on behalf of Unleash Futures Boats -
Ste­fanie Karkheck
Obere Lin­den­straße 12 — 21521 Wohltorf
+49 171–2126829 -