Ohio to Host 10 Fuel-Cell Transit Buses

Business, Featured  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

Not all the fuel-cell activity is on the U.S. coasts. Though California is still in the lead, and the Northeast is under development, it’s Canton, Ohio—home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame—that’s leapfrogging ahead with a 10-bus fleet.

Two of the buses have already been delivered to the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA), says Kristie Petty, marketing manager. Another five will be delivered early next year, and all 10 by the end of 2018.

The ElDorado National buses, with 250-mile range, have Ballard Power Systems FCvelocity fuel cells and BAE Systems electric drivetrains. The cost is approximately $1.9 million each, and it is covered by $20 million in state and federal grants. Petty said a 20 percent local match is being waived because SARTA is making the buses available for testing at Ohio State University and the Altoona Bus Research and Testing Center at Penn State.

SARTA fuel-cell bus

SARTA now has two fuel-cell buses, and a soon-to-expand hydrogen station. (SARTA photo)

SARTA has already installed a $1.9 million hydrogen station, capable of refilling two buses simultaneously, at its headquarters in Canton. Petty says its capacity will double, after which it will install a public station. The station includes a 9,000-gallon tank that will store liquid hydrogen at -273 degrees Fahrenheit.

The buses will actually run on gaseous hydrogen. The station is capable of dispensing 300 to 400 kilograms of hydrogen daily. They hydrogen price of approximately $4.60 per kilo is competitive, because fuel cells are twice as efficient as internal-combustion engines.

“By bringing hydrogen vehicles to the state and to Stark County, SARTA believes we will be encouraging economic development,” Petty said. “Honda is located near here [building cars in East Liberty], as is Ohio State, and we think we can bring in additional manufacturing and research jobs. It’s a great opportunity to get involved in innovative programs.”

SARTA was already an alternative-fuel innovator, with 40 compressed natural gas buses, four with hybrid electric diesel drives, and 56 conventional diesels. To familiarize Stark County with fuel-cell technology, one of the new buses did a public tour of four transit centers October 8.

Fuel-cell bus fleets, among them the Zero Emission Bay Area Demonstration Group and SunLine Transit Agency (both in California), accounted for more than a million miles traveled, and 83,000 hours of operation by mid-2015.

A new report on alternative-fuel buses from Navigant Research says that fuel-cell variants should enter volume production by the end of 2026. According to David Alexander, Navigant senior analyst and an author of the report, “Cost remains the main barrier to widespread implementation of fuel-cell buses. Although there doesn’t appear to be a significant drop in purchase prices coming in the short term, running costs are becoming manageable. So we still expect small numbers to go into service over the next decade as transit fleets take advantage of available subsidies.”

Lower costs are a big advantage of fuel-cell buses, SARTA said. “Our involvement will enable us to cut our fuel costs by as much as 50 percent in the years ahead,” said Kirt Conrad, SARTA’s CEO. “It will also maintain our position as trailblazers in the use of green technology to fuel public transit. Hydrogen is a practical, safe, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fuels.”

Pat Valente, executive director of the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition, is supportive. “We see a fuel cell corridor in Ohio, originally a corridor of supply chain and integrator companies, from Cleveland to Cincinnati, but now also including refueling stations—at SARTA and at the Ohio State campus in Columbus,” he said. Ohio State’s work is concentrated at its innovative Center for Automotive Research (CAR), but also includes other professors working on hydrogen-related issues.

Valente added, “I think this is the beginning of an infrastructure in the state of Ohio we don’t have at this point, and I think we will have it once people see the success of the buses.”

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