CARB ZEB Program Would Add 1,000 Hydrogen Buses

Oglesby, Bono, SimpsonLeaders from public transportation, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), bus and fuel cell manufacturers meet on June 21 at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to discuss plans to have 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell buses in service in California. Currently there are eight. 1,000 hydrogen buses would result in over 400,000 daily riders on hydrogen buses and a demand for over 40,000 kg/day of hydrogen.

The proposed Zero Emission Bus (ZEB) Regulation would accelerate the transition to hydrogen in California by providing large “anchor fleets” and large capacity fueling stations. Public response has been excellent for the hydrogen buses at AC Transit in Oakland, VTA in Santa Clara, and Sunline in Thousand Palms. Proposed Transit Agency ZEB required buses would be as follows:

• Long Beach Transit 29
• Golden Gate Transit 33
• San Mateo County Transit District 52
• Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority 80 (has 3 HFC buses)
• AC Transit 101 (has 3 HFC buses)
• San Francisco Municipal Railway 134 (meets requirement with electric trolleys)
• North County Transit District 23
• Santa Monica Big Blue Bus 26
• Omnitrans 26
• Sacramento Regional Transit District 38
• Foothill Transit 46
• San Diego Metropolitan Transit System 68
• Orange County Transportation Authority 92
• Los Angeles County MTA 384

1,132 is the total ZEB requirement if public transit fleets do not grow. Assuming some of these will be electric with limited range or an expensive overhead electric system, 1,000 are likely to be hydrogen.

Half the fleets are proposed to put ZEB in-service in 2009, half in 2010. These agencies will typically purchase buses annually, replacing buses that have been in service at least 12 years. The proposed 15% ZEB would not affect some of these agencies until 2011, and others until 2012. From there, it would take 12 years to reach the number of ZEB listed above.

Facilitating the meeting for CARB was Gerhard Achtelik and Analisa Bevan. Mr. Achtelik summarized the proposal and alternatives. His presentation included acknowledgement of public transit agencies concerns:

• Cost
• Reliability
• Availability
• Fuel cell service life
• Fueling infrastructure

Many of the leading California public transit agencies took part in the workshop as did the MTC which represents the bay area’s leading agencies. The proposal is controversial. Public transit leadership in ZEV and hydrogen will accelerate large capacity fueling and fleet adoption of clean vehicles, but early hydrogen buses cost over $3 million each. Public transit agencies run on tight budgets. Concerns were discussed, but no public transit agency stated that the proposed program could not be achieved.

Several factors will make hydrogen buses affordable. Jaimie Levin, Director of Marketing for AC Transit, reports than their suppliers VanHool, UTC and ISE are building a new 40-foot hydrogen fuel cell bus for about $2 million. Public transit normally receives 80% FTA funding for buying new buses. This would put the initial transit agency outlay at $400,000 per hydrogen bus vs. about $80,000 for a diesel bus.

The bigger concern about hydrogen for transit agencies is operating cost over the typical 12 year life of a bus. For most, hydrogen would be affordable if the fuel cell was replaced only once during the life of the bus and the replacing fuel cell would be a fraction of the current $1 million. Meeting both concerns appears likely.

UTC supports the CARB proposal. With manufacturing volume, UTC is confident of reducing fuel cell cost and extending fuel cell life. UTC currently provides a 4,000 hour warranty. In the future, UTC hopes to extend fuel cell life to 40,000 hours, which would match the 12-year life of most buses. The four buses currently using UTC fuel cells at AC Transit and Sunline are reaching double the equivalent miles-per gallon of standard diesel buses. The current fuel cell buses are demonstrating reliability, performance and a quiet ride. Michael Tosca, Senior Product Manager for UTC, felt that a $1 million hydrogen fuel cell bus could be produced if 100 were ordered together, lowering component and manufacturing costs.

CARB is considering several alternatives to soften requirements and timeline should technology not progress as expected: initiate purchase requirement through an Advanced Demonstration program; increase the fleet requirement from 2 to 15% as technology milestones are achieved; and the well-received Executive Officer Discretion Clause in implementing requirements as cost and warranty targets are achieved.

Hydrogen ICE (HICE) and CNG with hydrogen blends (HCNG) may also be allowed for the Advanced Demonstration and for being credited as 1/3 of a fuel cell bus. Such proposals would lower initial costs and simplify the transition. Many fleets are predominately CNG.

The proposed ZEB would accelerate the transition to cost-effective hydrogen transportation in California, reduce emissions, and reduce dependency on foreign oil.
Presentations on ARB Website

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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.