Fuel Cell Buses Get $6.6 Million Federal Boost

The federal government has given $6.6 million in funding to Calstart, an alternative-transportation consortium for the development of zero emission fuel cell buses. The funding came from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and will go towards regional development efforts around cleaner mass transit options.


Image via Sunline

Five projects in total are getting support. These are:

– An advanced generation fuel cell bus which integrates a smaller, lighter, and more powerful fuel cell in a full-size transit bus. Built by New Flyer Industries and utilizing a BAE Systems hybrid electric drivetrain, CTTransit will operate the bus in Hartford, CT.

– The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency with BAE Systems will integrate and test an enhanced 30 kW Hydrogenics fuel cell to power the auxiliary systems in a lower cost commercial hybrid powertrain.

– Ballard will develop a more robust and affordable fuel cell for integration and testing in a bus operated by SunLine Transit Agency in the Coachella Valley, Calif.

– US Hybrid, a Torrance-based company, will develop and test a high-voltage, high efficiency, converter to power air conditioning systems for hybrid buses. Air conditioning systems are one of the biggest sources of energy consumption beyond the traction system.

– Calstart will conduct an analysis to assess the current market viability of fuel cell buses and provide recommendations on actions to accelerate the growth of the segment.

Nearly 60 percent of all 40-foot transit buses purchased in the United States rely on funding provided by the FTA. To qualify for this funding, buses must meet the agency’s “Buy America” requirements, which require 60 percent American-made components.

The FTA is currently overseeing a national program – the National Fuel Cell Bus Program [PDF] – focused on developing commercially viable fuel cell bus technologies. Calstart is one of three non-profit consortia chosen to manage projects competitively selected under the program.

They work with bus companies and fuel cell technology firms, acting as a catalyst for the growth of the clean transportation technology industry. One of their partners is BAE Systems, which has been manufacturing hybrid drive propulsion systems for over a decade and has more than 3,500 hybrid buses operating around the world.

Hybrid buses are growing more common in public transport systems around the world and yet many authorities still remain to be convinced. Not least because of the high cost of fuel cells. A 2007 U.S. Department of Transportation study put the fuel cell costs for an entire life cycle at three times that of diesel, CNG or diesel hybrid buses.

“We are extremely pleased with the announcement by Secretary LaHood,” said Calstart President and CEO John Boesel in a statement. “Matched on a 1:1 basis by other sources, these federal grants will play an important role in accelerating the market adoption of zero emission fuel cell buses.”

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.

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