RTS is looking beyond electric buses for a way to reduce emissions.
Officials with Regional Transit Service think hydrogen fuel cell technology might hold the answer.
And with $5 million in state money recently announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul, they intend to find out.
The public transit authority has found that Rochester’s climate – particularly its long winters – limit the range an electric bus can travel on a single charge. RTS has operated 10 electric buses through the past two winters.
“They’ve operated well,” RTS chief executive Bill Carpenter said, but estimates the range drops by about 30 miles on hot days, and 100 miles on cold ones.
The result is that, in winter, an electric bus can’t be run on about 70 percent of RTS routes because the routes are too long, officials said. The battery is less efficiently in temperature extremes, he said, and the AC and heater takes a lot of energy.
So they have ordered electric buses with bigger batteries. And with the $5 million, they will buy two full-sized hydrogen fuel cell buses, a few smaller ones and a fueling system.
“If all we have is electric, we’ll either need more buses or the technology of the batteries to greatly improve in order to do all the routes that we have,” Carpenter said. “We’re hoping that hydrogen might be a zero-emission solution to that problem.”
Fueling time is quicker, measured in minutes, instead of hours with electric. And the range gets closer to that of diesel. At least that’s what RTS has been told.
RTS began working toward a zero-emission fleet in 2017, with funding announced by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo. He committed more money two years ago, setting a goal of electrifying the fleets of RTS and the state’s other large public transit operators so they reach zero emissions by 2035.
The state has set a similar goal for school districts, which have been proceeding with electric. Gates-Chili recently received a couple of electric buses. And officials broke ground last month on an electric bus facility in Batavia.
All this will require replacing hundreds of diesel-powered buses – each of which puts out the equivalent emissions of 20 gas-powered cars.
Supply chain interruptions and labor shortages are huge challenges toward meeting that goal. And then there is the expense.
An electric bus is twice as expensive as a diesel bus. A hydrogen bus costs about three times as much, Carpenter said.
Maintenance and fuel costs are much less. Fueling time is quicker with hydrogen, measured in minutes like diesel, instead of hours with electric. And the range gets closer to that of diesel. At least that’s what RTS has been told.
How to ensure a steady supply of hydrogen is an open question.
If RTS can make hydrogen work, and work well, Carpenter said it could be a model for the rest of the country. But it’s going to take a while. At the earliest, the fuel cell buses will arrive in December 2023.
“We are committed to a zero-emission solution,” he said. “It’s finding out what’s going to work best for our community.”
To figure that out, RTS is talking with researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology, and New York fuel cell company Plug Power, which has a sizable and growing footprint in the area.
“We want to have a better understanding of (alternative fuel buses) before we build out our campus infrastructure.”
SOURCE: WXXI NEWS