The County of Hawai’i Mass Transit Agency (MTA), in partnership with the Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) and U.S. Hybrid, took delivery of its first hydrogen fuel-cell powered bus intended for operation on Routes 202, 203, and 204 in Kailua-Kona later this Spring.
The bus is expected to travel approximately 100 miles a day and rotate between the three Kailua-Kona routes. The bus was delivered to Hawai’i Island on March 23 and is being prepared for service.
In 2019, the Hawai’i County Council accepted the 21-passenger 2014 El Dorado Aero Elite as a donation from HNEI. Originally purchased as a gasoline-powered vehicle, it was converted by U.S. Hybrid to hydrogen with a new state-of-the-art 40 kW U.S. Hybrid fuel cell as its proprietary electric drive system.
The County Council is also awaiting delivery of two 19-passenger 2012 El Dorado Aero Elite buses converted for hydrogen fuel-cell power that the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park donated to the County.
The first bus will be operated and maintained by Roberts Hawai’i until the base yard in Kailua-Kona is completed (tentatively scheduled for 2025). The maintenance will be transitioned to the MTA. Until this transition is completed, the bus will be maintained and fueled at the state-of-the-art hydrogen station built and operated by HNEI at the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawai’i Authority (NELHA) and commissioned last year. The station's 65-kilogram per day hydrogen production can fuel all three buses.
Funding for the station came from various sources, including the Office of Naval Research, the State of Hawai’i, and NELHA. The bus was purchased by HNEI using funds from the Energy Systems Development Special Fund, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Office of Naval Research.
The remaining two 2012 El Dorado Aero Elite buses will be delivered later in 2022. These buses, currently powered with a 30kW hydrogen drive system, are being upgraded with the same 40kW U.S. hybrid fuel cells and A123 Lithium-ion batteries as the 21-passenger bus to simplify maintenance issues. The upgrades to the two remaining buses are funded from the General Excise Tax (GET) provided by the County of Hawai’i.
"Hele-On is excited to be at the cutting-edge and pioneering new fuel technology to reduce our carbon footprint and provide quality service to Hawai’i County residents and visitors," stated John Andoh, Mass Transit Administrator & GM of the MTA. "This hydrogen bus pilot will set the framework for the MTA to consider hydrogen buses that can operate across the island in the future once a hydrogen station in Hilo is constructed."