Management & Operations

Million-dollar hydrogen fuel cell bus begins service in Hawaii

Posted on March 1, 2004

The first hydrogen fuel cell bus for both the state of Hawaii and the U.S. Air Force began service Feb. 19 with a dedication ceremony held at Hickam Air Force Base. The vehicle’s new drive system and hydrogen fuel cell were built through a collaboration among four benefactors: the U.S. Air Force, a federally funded state agency called Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies (HCATT), Enova Systems and Canadian-based Hydrogenics. “We’ve been talking about venturing into hydrogen powered fuel cells to support transportation,“ said Tom Quinn, HCATT director. “And we just had an agreement between our office and our Air Force funding office that we needed to accelerate the introduction of fuel cell vehicles so that we could start working on the requisite hydrogen infrastructure to support it. So it was kind of like a catalyst to push the technology forward.” Environmental requirements calling for lower emissions also played a role in pushing the hydrogen bus project further. Creating the bus was one way of improving the environment, since the bus produces zero emissions, Quinn said. Other buses in the Hickam Air Force Base fleet are diesel powered, setting apart the hydrogen fuel bus, which runs at a maximum speed of 45 mph on energy created through batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell. A combination of hydrogen and air from the atmosphere work together to generate electricity for the bus’ motor. “The bus with the fuel cell addition probably triples the range of [other] vehicles,” Quinn said. “It gives it greater flexibility and emission profile. [If] the Air Force wants to use it in terms of using it as a base shuttle, or using it from the base into the downtown area, or shuttling flight crews along the flight line, it would give them more of a variety of options, and this configuration will help do that because it’s a battery-fuel cell combination.” Torrance, Calif.-based Enova Systems, which had worked with HCATT before, was an important contributor to the project. “We were selected because of our relationship there to be the team leader on this project, and we teamed with Hydrogenics of Canada,” said Carl Perry, Enova’s president and CEO. “They provided the fuel cell and the fuel cell system; we provided all the power electronics that go into the total system and operate within the vehicle. We do not build vehicles. Think of us as Intel, like in a computer.” All together, the joint venture to make the hydrogen fuel cell bus cost approximately $1 million. “Fuel cells are still early in technology, and as in any new technology, costs are high,” Quinn said. “They’re still developing, and they’re still improving the performance and improving the life cycle. We want to extend the life cycle as long as we can.” “What we have put together is leading-edge technology, and we accomplished the entire integration of this process in 90 days,” Perry said. “That’s a great tribute to Enova and to Hydrogenics and to the entire project. The key is taking the fuel cell and the power management and marrying these systems — many of these problems would take a year of integration — but by our team of the state of Hawaii, the Air Force and Hydrogenics...it was an incredible team effort. Credit goes to all of these team players.” — Jaclyn Roco

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