The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority plans to start carrying riders on a fuel-cell bus next fall, and will have a seven-bus fleet by the end of 2017. To fuel them, SARTA is building a hydrogen station in front of its Gateway Boulevard SE headquarters.
By Shane Hoover CantonRep.com--
Clean and quiet hydrogen fuel cell buses are cutting-edge public transportation.
The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority plans to start carrying riders on a fuel-cell bus next fall, and will have a seven-bus fleet by the end of 2017.
To fuel them, SARTA is building a hydrogen station in front of its Gateway Boulevard SE headquarters.
The agency will break ground ceremonially on the new $1.6 million station Tuesday. Actual construction will begin around February and take six to eight months to complete.
Like SARTA’s compressed natural gas station, the hydrogen station will be open to the public.
“This will be the largest hydrogen station outside of California,” said Kirt Conrad, SARTA’s executive director.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Through a chemical reaction, fuel cells turn oxygen and hydrogen into electricity that can power a vehicle, such as a bus. The only byproduct is water.
“It has the allure of being a completely sustainable, completely renewable source of fuel,” said Jim Durand, program manager of the Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Cell Collaborative at Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research.
But there are drawbacks. Hydrogen needs to be stored under high pressure, and the still-developing technology is expensive.
“A big key is the refueling infrastructure,” Durand said.
In 2006, the Federal Transit Administration started the National Fuel Cell Bus Program to improve the technology and reduce its cost.
Three-quarters of the $19 million price tag of SARTA’s fuel-cell buses and hydrogen station will come from federal grants. The rest of the funding comes from federal dollars administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
“We’re part of this team that’s taking this product and trying to commercialize it,” Conrad said.
SARTA’s seven fuel-cell buses will give it the third largest fuel-cell fleet in the country, and the largest outside of California.
SARTA will get two fuel-cell buses next year, but they won’t immediately be on the road.
One will be used at Ohio State as part of SARTA’s collaboration with the Center for Automotive Research. After a year, the bus will be transferred to Canton.
The other bus has to go through benchmark safety testing in Pennsylvania. It should be on the road in October or November, Conrad said.
Five more buses will be delivered throughout 2017.
The buses, built by ElDorado National using fuel cells made by Ballard Power Systems and a drivetrain from BAE Systems, will seat 35 passengers and cost about $60,000 to operate a year, including driver salaries, maintenance and fuel.
Pennsylvania-based Air Products will help build and maintain the fueling station, and supply the hydrogen.
SARTA will pay the equivalent of $2.20 a gallon for hydrogen. That’s more than SARTA currently pays for CNG and diesel, but hydrogen prices are less volatile, Conrad said.
Fuel cell buses also are more efficient. Testing has shown they have 1.73 times the fuel economy of diesel buses and almost double that of CNG buses, according to a December report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The rest of SARTA’s 100-bus fleet will include 40 CNG buses and four diesel-electric buses, with the rest running on a low-level biodiesel blend.
Congressman Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, have supported the hydrogen project at the federal level.
And Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor is scheduled to attend Tuesday’s event in recognition of the state’s role.
“Without the state of Ohio’s support for this, we would not be where we’re at,” Conrad said.
He said he hopes SARTA’s role in testing fuel-cell buses will help Ohio businesses compete in the growing industry.
So far, California leads the nation in using hydrogen as a transportation fuel. The state has nine refueling stations and another 42 were planned as of November, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership.
Ohio doesn’t have a network of hydrogen stations and you can’t buy fuel-cell cars.
But the state has companies that make tanks for storing hydrogen, high-pressure fittings, fueling stations and even fuel cells, said Durand, the Ohio State professor. “You might call it a ‘sleeper industry.’”