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 Lindenstra├če 12 – 21521 Wohltorf
+49 171-2126829 –