• Feb 5th 2010 at 1:55PM
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Olympic fuel cell buses – Click above to watch video after the jump

With the Winter Olympic games set to kick off next week in Vancouver, British Columbia, many of the visitors to the ski resort of Whistler (just north of the city) will be getting zero emissions transportation. BC Transit has deployed 20 hydrogen fuel cell buses in Whistler as part of its ongoing effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The silent electric drive buses have a range of over 300 miles between fill-ups that take 8-10 minutes.

The buses are nearly twice as efficient as existing diesel buses, consuming 28 liters of hydrogen per 100 kilometers driven compared to 52 L/100 km for the diesels. New Flyer built the bus chassis with Vancouver-based Ballard Power systems providing the fuel cell system. This should be an interesting test of fuel cell technology with the fuel cell buses operating in cold weather conditions and mountainous terrain. BC Transit expects the new buses to operate for 15 years. Check out the video after the jump.

[Source: Ballard]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      FCV issues revolve around cost.

      Even after over a decade of development, a PEM stack large enough to move something as heavy as a light passenger vehicle still costs several thousand dollars per kW.

      There's still no evidence that PEM fuel cells will drop in price as rapidly as lithium-based batteries already have.

      It's a chicken/egg problem - with such high prices for the fuel cell stack compared to alternatives, there's no demand for mass production of PEM stacks, so there's no cost reduction.

      So, it remains far cheaper to skip the fuel cell completely and use a large battery pack (Tesla) or for even less money use a smaller battery pack but an ICE-based range extender (Volt)
      Phillius Thomas
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is awesome! I am so glad they are doing this. This will help out with global warming. http://www.activetreeservices.ca/en/services.html
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm just curious.

      When the "brick" telephone came was hashed out in December 1972 by 8 engineers and cost over $100 million dollars to develop AND then took 11 years to actually come to market at a cost of $4000 a copy AND $2/minute to use.

      In today's numbers, they spent $513 million dollars and over $10/minute to talk. That's over 100 times more to talk per minute than today.

      So...where were all you whiners then when they came out with this product? waiting in line to buy it or bitching and moaning about how expensive it is? Do any of you use cell phones now? If so, you should stop using them immediately if you all don't want to be considered hypocrites.

        • 5 Years Ago
        What were we doing? Ignoring it until the price got reasonable, that's what. Most of those early cell phones were bought by millionaires who otherwise would have paid even more for mobile phone service - if they could get it.

        So don't be surprised that we're ignoring the way too expensive H2 fuel cell vehicles. But curiously enough, there aren't many millionaires clamoring for H2FCVs, mainly because there are better options available already. Tesla has sold a thousand high performance roadsters, so how many high performance H2FCVs have sold? None. That's right, none are offered for sale, and no H2FCV prototype has performance anywhere close to matching the Tesla Roadster. (Before you ask, no, I can't afford the Roadster, either, but it is much closer to "affordable" than any H2FCV.)

        So, Noz, do you just have to buy whatever great new technology comes along? Did you load up your computer with the Magnetic Bubble Memory that was supposed to be the Next Big Thing? Does your stereo have a Digital Audio Tape deck? Got a LaserDisc player? Betamax? Apple III? Apple LISA? Amiga?

        The history of technology is littered with once promising but expensive ideas that fell by the wayside, so your "Its expensive now, but just you wait" argument isn't very impressive. I'll wait.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Ignoring it until the price got reasonable, that's what."

        Please, I wish that anti-hydrogen trolls would just IGNORE the pro-hydrogen articles...

        But they don't. They're actively BASHING hydrogen research, BASHING companies and governments that fund hydrogen research, and BASHING people who express enthusiasm for hydrogen research. Bashing researchers and people who also actively support other EV technologies, I might add.

        Articles that are pro-hydrogen on ABG generally get dozens more comments than articles that are related to almost any other topic. If you don't want to hear about hydrogen fuel cell progress - stop reading the articles!

        Do it, Chris M (and all the other anti-hydrogen trolls).

        Just ignore hydrogen fuel cell research, since you say it won't happen anyway. Stop reading the articles, stop posting negative comments, and start "Ignoring it until the price got reasonable, that's what."
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh and as far as affordability goes, ChrisM...your Tesla example is rather pointless. A Learjet is far more affordable than a Boeing 737.....so what? When 99% of the folks out there can't afford either, it's completely irrelevant.

        But hey...with your mentality, we should kill Tesla also because it's far too expensive and impractical.
        • 5 Years Ago

        A typical, it whooshed right over your head. Because you're so blind to anything other than what's floating around in that brain of yours.

        I'll tell you what I was doing...I was cheering on the progress. I knew that it was a harbinger of things to come. And that's the whole point which blows by you every single time.

        If it wasn't for the fact that people had that vision to bring the brick out...even when it was extremely impractical and expensive, you and other self-righteous people like you wouldn't be tooling around with cell phones now. You do use a cell phone right ChrisM?????

        If so, toss it now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Last I checked there was a freedom of speech right in this country, or was it amended? Would the hydrogen proponents have us ignore GW as well as the hydrogen issue? Perhaps we should ignore pollution in general, that is to close to reality but would suit the oil corps to no end. Lets have no descent. H2 for everyone, as long as the public must pay for the research and the infrastructure, the fossil fuel corps will keep pushing for H2 for the future, BO (Beyond Oil)

      Time for me to crawl back under my bridge now.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No one is asking you to ignore GCC, or to ignore pollution - the reason we are all readers of ABG is because we want to be a positive force for making improvements.

        Some of the technologies we support will make immediate improvements, while others are still in the development phases. It is important to note that each technology covered by this blog was at one point too expensive, too impractical, and too far in the future to be of any use. Things change - technology will improve, prices will be brought down, and the paradigm will shift.

        The point that all the anti-FCV trolls never seem to accept is that until recently, BEVs were a pipe dream. I'm glad that's changed.

        What I wish would change, is the opinion that BEVs are the Holy Grail of green autos. Should we stop researching biofuels, solar cells, or any other types of future propulsion? (if you say yes, stop reading, you've already missed the point) There is NOTHING wrong with supporting technologies other than the pure battery solution.

        I respect freedom of speech. With that freedom comes responsibility. If you disagree with someone, there's no need to turn it into a shouting match, and demean their position, their intelligence, or impugn their integrity. What you should be willing to do is accept the difference of opinion with the understanding that you should treat others the way you would like to be treated. Unless you think it's nice when people crap all over battery technology.

        If you come into a pro-FCV post, and make disparaging comments about those who are genuinely interested in seeing a new technology make positive steps forward, then in my opinion, yes - you are a troll. Go sit under your bridge, because there will be another pro-FCV post next week, and the next, and the next....

        Personally, I wish politics were left completely out of this arena. I know you hate paying taxes to support FCV research - but there's nothing I or any other reader can do about it.

        Call your Congresspeople. Call your elected officials. Call Stephen Chu and President Obama for all I care. Those are the people who are deciding where your tax money goes, not me.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I've seen this on the news and I am quite annoyed that our tax money will be funding this. The Olympics are already going to leave us with billions in debt, all for the sake of CocaCola and McDonalds who have taken over all the billboards.

      It's a corporate moneymaking cluster#!?$ on the backs of taxpayers.

      And what's the deal with the mileage comparisons? How can you compare litres fuel consumption of hydrogen directly with diesel? Firstly, they are totally different fuels, one is a liquid and one is a gas and they have different volumetric energy densities. Furthermore, the methods of production of each fuel, and the associated well to wheel carbon emissions are totally different, so a direct comparison of mileage on a litre / km basis is beyond meaningless, it is deceptive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        All public transit systems are heavily subsidized, with fares covering only a small portion of the operating costs, the rest comes from other taxes. Not surprising that they'd ignore the high cost of the fuel cells for these busses, they are for publicity and aren't expected to be economically viable.

        You could be right about the fuel economy comparison, mentioning the volume of gaseous fuels is meaningless without also specifying pressure and temperature. However, even at 10,000 psi and with fuel cell efficiency, 28 liters of highly compressed H2 is unlikely to equal 52 liters of diesel. But wait! With Air Liquide involved, perhaps they are using cryogenically liquified H2 instead. Then the figures become more realistic.

        Problem is, it takes even more energy to produce liquid H2 than it does to produce compressed H2, and the cost is higher, about 2 to 3 time higher per liter than diesel. Upshot, the per mile cost is higher, even if the higher cost of fuel cells are ignored.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'll believe this 'waste hydrogen' when I see them doing the same with natural gas -- like .... they don't. They flare it off. Why aren't they collecting that CH4 waste gas and using it to power natural gas ICE's? This would be even cheaper and more efficient than doing so with hydrogen and sending it through fuel cells.
        • 5 Years Ago
        As far as I know, unless the waste gas can be used directly on site, pumped into a reservoir, or transported to local areas directly via pipeline, it isn't economically viable. There are experiments of liquefying the natural gas and transporting it further, but I don't know if these are economically viable.

        There are probably many parallels with hydrogen, except transporting hydrogen is even harder.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "The amount of waste hydrogen produced varies widely depending on the process in a particular plant. This paper examines alternatives for plants that produce more than 4
        metric tones of hydrogen per day. Power generation greater than 1 megawatt is the focus of this paper."


        "When venting or burning hydrogen, chemical manufacturers are failing to capture the full potential value of this gas. With electricity representing 70% of the production cost of chlorine, taking a waste product and turning it into clean energy on site is a very attractive proposition."


      • 5 Years Ago
      This talk of 'waste hydrogen' doesn't really make any sense, it must have taken some energy to liberate that hydrogen via some process, wouldn't it be sensible to install a fuel cell *at that site* and use the electricity there to reclaim some of the energy used in the process?
        • 5 Years Ago
        As the developers of the IWHUP, and related fueling infrastructure, let me spell out the facts:

        There is enough by-product hydrogen in Canada to fuel over 200,000 vehicles running 20,000 km per year. This byproduct is truly wasted. Electricity is used to convert salt water brine (NaCl +H20) to Sodium Chlorate (NaCl03) or to Chlorine (Cl2) and Caustic Soda (NaOH) - industrial chemicals used in pulp and paper, water purification, water conditioning and other industrial applications.

        The reaction is Exothermic, meaning it gives off heat, and that as a result there is little market for the H2 being given off, and as a result it is vented.

        In Norht Vancouver, a small stream of this gas is recovered, purified and used in industrial, and transportation uses.

        As the input to the electrochemical process is hydro electric, the gas has no GHG's and results in a net credit when displacing fossil fuels.

        Concerning the buses and fuel cell technology, while the technology is expensive for the first few, we will benefit tremendously from cost savings in the near term. Most of the upfront costs were engineering and system development - resulting in savings on future purchase.

        The economics of fuel cell buses are good long term, and compete with trolley buses on a full lifecycle basis.

        Further, advances in fuel cells are resulting in deployments in warehouses to run electric forklifts, and in backup power applications where longer life is required than that can be offered by batteries.

        Fuel cells offer a huge potential for clean, efficient energy, and while they are initially expensive, will come down as the markets uptake the technologies.

        Do you remember how much the first CD players cost? they are now a dime a dozen. This is thanks to mass market development.

        Fuel Cell products are no different.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, yeah, or they could use it for any industrial processes that use H2, such as oil refining or making shortening. They could even burn it for heat.

        I sometimes wonder how some businesses can keep operating when wasting a potentially valuable resource like this
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sorry I'm late to the daily 5-minute hate...

      Anyone posted about how fuel-cells will never happen, and that they're a waste of time to even try to develop?

      (thanks for the coverage of fuel cells, ABG.)

      BTW, some of the hydrogen used to fuel these buses is coming from waste hydrogen (IWHUP) that would otherwise have just been vented into the atmosphere. It's a good use of an otherwise wasted resource.

      "The total byproduct hydrogen generated by the two operations exceeds 1000kg/hr with over 600 kg presently being vented. HTEC’s plant is designed to provide 20kg/hr of purified hydrogen at Grade 5 (99.999%) purity and at pressures of 6550psig. The hydrogen supply is available as of fall 2006 to IWHUP and other hydrogen users."


        • 5 Years Ago
        That "waste hydrogen" comes from the electrolysis of salt water to produce chlorine bleach, and the supply is limited by the limited demand for bleach.

        It may be enough to power a few H2 fuel cell busses, but not much else.
        • 5 Years Ago
        waste hydrogen ! what a load of bo**ocks , I suppose it
        just happened to be some H2 they had kicking around at
        the back of the tool shed !
        As the previous poster commented it does take a lot of energy
        to split the all-hallowed particle away from whatever else it is
        bonded to !
        • 5 Years Ago
        it's just not true that you have to test it out in practice to know if it will work. it can easily be hashed out on paper. there doesn't appear to be any uncertainty, it wont work. the only thing that remains an open question for me is if it down the road could be a range extender, perhaps a liquid fuel fuel cell, or perhaps with a dramatic factor 2 efficiency increase. as it stands now they are expensive, weak, inefficient, complex because of all the supporting systems needed and subject to degradation ironically from pollution in the air. there is a reason only big oil is promoting fuel cells and why Steven Chu told fuel cells to get bent : )
        I have bitter experience trying to reason with local municipals too who are technically inept children who speak fondly of fuel cells because that's what their lying buddies at big auto told them was good 10 years ago. like debating fine engineering with toddlers playing paddy cake and while toddlers are adorable, it loses its appeal when it's obtuse idiot politicians who fuck up your world. no doubt the same happened there.
      • 5 Years Ago
      There is a lot of hydrogen waste from industrial processes, which is presumably normally vented:

      50 million tons is about 50 billion kilograms, around the equivalent of the same number of gallons of petrol in energy terms.
      It seems better to use it then waste it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You've mis-read the article: "Every year there is about 50 million tonnes of hydrogen going around and nobody notices." But most of that is used for industrial purposes, such as chemical manufacturing and oil refining, the amount that is "wasted" is a small fraction of that. To be sure, there are a few companies foolish enough to waste potentially valuable resources like H2, but there aren't many and they do tend to be driven out of business by less wasteful firms.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wow! Since all that hydrogen is just wasted today, it will be provided to fuel cell vehicle owners for free, right?

        Wrong. Fuel cells require ultra-pure hydrogen. The waste products of industry would be very un-pure. So you'd need some kind of very expensive process to separate H2 from all the other vented gases, etc., which would make using this "free" H2 very, very expensive.

        And big oil is not looking into doing anything of the sort. They are focusing on steam reformation from natural gas or electrolysis.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Perhaps I am misinterpreting, but the article does say:
        'An awful lot of industries produce hydrogen which they don't do anything with,'
        The situation seems pretty unclear to me, and finding decent data is likely to be difficult, as you are probably talking about a lot of different industries doing a lot of different things.
        Check out the other link I gave though to the situation in part of Germany.
        I do not necessarily agree that any company which wasted the hydrogen currently would be in financial trouble.
        The methane gas in tips and the sewage from pigs farms have been traditionally wasted, and with a little ingenuity both are fine resources.
        Hopefully we can reach the same stage with hydrogen, as for instance in the case of the scooter although it might appear superficially that batteries would do the job, in cities charging is difficult for apartment dwellers.
        Scooters are so fuel efficient that any theoretical losses in efficiency of hydrogen vs batteries are hardly material, and if the hydrogen would be wasted otherwise or used for less economic purposes, why not use it?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Perhaps big oil is not looking at utilising waste hydrogen as fuel - after all, that is hardly their expertise.
        Plenty of other large companies and utilities are though:
        'The Chemergy project aims to enable the hydrogen produced as a by-product in the chemical industry to be used as a fuel. The partners in the Chemergy project are Stadtwerke Hürth (a municipal institution) as the contracting entity, as well as Air Products GmbH, Infraserv GmbH, Knapsack KG, IGH2 – InnovationsGesellschaft Wasserstoff mbH, and Praxair Deutschland GmbH. Organizational responsibility is borne by HyCologne – Wasserstoff Region Rheinland eV.'


        Obviously the hydrogen would need separating and purifying, but I am not sure on what you base your statement that it will be very, very expensive? Perhaps you would share your figures and calculations?

        Personally, I am pretty chuffed that something that was going to waste is being used - in the case of the German project to potentially move many hundreds of buses or thousands of cars.
      • 5 Years Ago
      While the fuel consumption numbers are essentially meaningless (litres of hydrogen are not equal to litres of diesel in the amount of energy they contain, and "litres" is a misnomer as volume varies with the amount of compression, anyway), if anything it's even more favorable to the fuel cell's efficiency - on the order of 4 to 5 times more efficient, energy-wise, instead of only twice.

      The problem of course, is that those gains are lost when you turn natural gas into hydrogen. You may as well burn the natural gas in an ICE for all the good it does.

      Makes for good headlines for the ignorant however.
        • 5 Years Ago
        According to BC Transit, the hydrogen for this particular fleet is from hydro-electricity and waste, so it is renewable.

        The buses cost $2.32 million each ($46.4 million for 20 buses according to BC Transit website).
        $116,667/year/bus (fueling + 2 stations is $20million over 6 years; subtract $3 million for each station and get $14 million in fueling costs over 6 years).

        This seems to be higher (probably because it is renewable) than for other fuel cell hybrid buses ($49,580/year in fueling). It is a bit higher than non-hybrid fuel cell buses ($90,991/year). Fueling costs for diesel hybrid and CNG are much lower at ~$30k/year.

        The 2007 DOT evaluation of hydrogen buses found they cost about 3x higher over a lifecycle (everything factored in) than diesel, diesel hybrid, and CNG (which are all pretty close). These buses used by BC Transit seem to cost about a million less for each than the buses evaluated by the DOT, which would balance out the higher fuel costs of this BC Transit fleet from using renewables.

        The analysis shows that hydrogen buses cost significantly more across the board in all categories (overhaul, maintenance, fuel), although the biggest factor is the higher cost of the bus and infrastructure. So it does need quite a bit of work to get the costs down. Not being a big follower of hydrogen, I'm not sure if tech advancements and volume can bring fuel cell prices down, but it definitely is necessary for fuel cells to be viable. Bringing the price of hydrogen down is important too, and how to do that is even less clear.

        Hydrogen is unique compared to natural gas, in that it can provide a renewable pathway. Therefore, it does make some sense to support it, without other renewable alternatives. If the hydrogen bus is using natural gas, then it makes more sense to use CNG, since it saves a lot of money and the emissions are likely similar (though I haven't taken the time to calculate them).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, we're more worried that it will be a colossal failure. Like this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_Ferry_Scandal
        • 5 Years Ago
        "But hey, it's just an experiment anyway. Why is everyone so nervous that fuel cells might actually be successful? "

        OK, I'll give you that. I agree. Let's get these things out on the market. Hydrogen advocates keep talking about getting FCV's out on the market so the consumer can decide. Yes!!!!

        But wait a minute ... there AREN'T any out on the market!!!!!! Not even close.

        There are a few overpriced busses bought by governments who want to promote hydrogen by indebting their citizens. There are forklifts. There are a few leased FCV's out there, but they only lease because the cost to buy would be ridiculous. Other than that, there isn't anything!!!!

        By contrast, you have many NEV's available to purchase now (competitive price, poor performance), the Tesla Roadster (competitive performance, poor price), and later this year a whole slew of new BEV's with competitive performance and almost competitive price!!! To BUY!!!

        Let's let the market decide! Equivalent government subsidies (to level the playing field between EV's and FCV's).

        And the problem with hydro power H2 is that it uses electricity we could have instead sold to the US!!!!
        • 5 Years Ago
        "But hey, it's just an experiment anyway. Why is everyone so nervous that fuel cells might actually be successful? "

        An expensive experiment, at my expense, the outcome of which anyone who understands the fundamentals of hydrogen could predict.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sadly, science isn't all just theoretical musings on a blog. These sorts of things must be tested in the real world, under real world conditions in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis.

        Many people support the hypothesis that fuel cells are viable - many people support the hypothesis that they aren't. So far, those supporting the first hypothesis have been proven to be more frequently correct, while the latter keep mumbling about impossibilities.

        Let the science begin!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree, the fuel cells still beat diesels even though the direct number comparisons are misleading. We have lots of natural gas here so it's still better to convert that to hydrogen and run a fuel cell than to make diesel from the Alberta tar sands.

        However, as you mention, if you're going to be using natural gas to make hydrogen, then just skip the whole unnecessary step and costly fuel cell, and just burn it straight in an ICE, you're better off!

        It makes absolutely no sense what they are doing. They are trying to support and showcase the local Ballard fuel cell company, which is great to be doing in principle, but if the underlying energy fundamentals just aren't there for a hydrogen economy, then don't bother because it won't take off no matter how much the government helps it out.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Keeping the discussion relevant to this specific article, the hydrogen used to fuel the buses during the Olympics is produced partly from waste industrial hydrogen (linked in my other comment) and mostly from renewable hydro-electric power. No emissions, period.


        But hey, it's just an experiment anyway. Why is everyone so nervous that fuel cells might actually be successful?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh sure. And "many people" support the hypothesis of perpetual motion. That doesn't mean that everyone who's done the math and tested those hypotheses hasn't come up, ah, short.

        Which is exactly the problem with hydrogen as a medium for energy storage. It comes up short.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ah, but there is a big difference between being technically feasible and being economically feasible. No one has ever questioned whether it was technically possible to run a vehicle on H2, that has been known for over a century. It is also well known that H2 fuel and H2 fuel cells currently cost far too much to be economically competitive.

        The real question is: Will H2 fuel cell vehicle ever become economically competitive? Considering that some competing alternatives are already much cheaper and more efficient, I doubt it. So, let the games begin, and may the best power train win the low cost race.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "These sorts of things must be tested in the real world, under real world conditions in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis."

        But it was tested 100 years ago with the third and second laws of thermodynamics!!! If you can violate these you will become a very famous and rich person because not even black holes can violate the laws of thermodynamics!!!!

        As I've said before, there are things that are "impossible" because of current limitations to our technology. So they aren't really impossible. Then there are things that are "impossible" due to the laws of thermodynamics, and they really are impossible!
      • 5 Years Ago
      All hail big hydrogen. Now bow to your new master (aka big oil).

      "Meet the new boss. The same as the old boss..." - The Who
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is better on all count then a regular diesel ice bus.

      I don't understand why nobody sell a simple fuelcell little car with or without renegerative breaks, LOL LOL LOL.
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