Green Report: Hydrogen Fuel Cells Gather Steam as Viable Fleet Option

Posted on March 18, 2013 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Page 2 of 4

AC Transit uses solar panels to power its hydrogen fuel production process, further enhancing its sustainability efforts.
AC Transit uses solar panels to power its hydrogen fuel production process, further enhancing its sustainability efforts.

Early adopters

Another early and consistent user of hydrogen fuel-cell buses is Oakland, Calif.-based AC Transit, which ran three fuel-cell buses, logging more than 270,000 miles while carrying more than 700,000 passengers from March 2006 through mid-2010.

“In 2000, the California Air Resources Board mandated all transit agencies with 200 or more buses convert to CNG fuels or engage in a demonstration project to assess the viability of hydrogen fuel-cell technology. AC Transit opted for the latter,” explains Clarence Johnson, media affairs manager for AC Transit. “Because the buses emit no pollutants — only water vapor from their tailpipes — and uses solar panels to power the fuel production process, the project actually enhances our environmental sustainability efforts.”

AC Transit is currently operating 12, third-generation fuel-cell buses. The new buses, manufactured by Van Hool, feature a redesigned chassis that is 5,000 pounds lighter than the earlier buses. Each new bus is powered by the 120 kW ClearEdge fuel-cell power system an advanced lithium-ion energy storage system by Indianapolis’ Enerdel.

“The early results are promising, with ‘H2 Buses’ getting about twice the fuel mileage as diesel buses,” says Johnson.

Hydrogen tanks on the roof give the bus a range of 220 miles to 240 miles, and batteries recharged during braking can provide extra power for acceleration and climbing steep grades, according to the agency.

AC Transit’s “HyRoad” program is supported entirely by grants from the California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the FTA. The funds are specifically tagged for fuel-cell development and may not be used for any other purpose.

The agency contracted with outside firms to build the station and the fuel-cell buses, managing the contracting and building processes with three staff members.

The program is being monitored, evaluated and reported by NREL as part of the U.S. governments program. Johnson explains there is currently no timetable for the project to end or be expanded.

“The demonstration project is for an indefinite period of time,” he says. “The Air Resources Board will determine how long the project will last and what happens when it ends. However, the future of hydrogen fuel-cell ventures will likely largely depend on how proven the technology is/will be; and the availability of funding to pay for other hydrogen facilities and vehicles.”

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