By C. Mikel Oglesby
February 19, 2010, as the sun was rising in the Coachella Valley, the SunLine Transit Agency staff, board members and members of the community were preparing to celebrate another milestone in the use of cutting edge alternative fueled vehicles.
In our continued path on the Road to Hydrogen, we proudly unveiled the agency’s sixth generation hydrogen fueled vehicle, the Advanced Technology fuel cell bus (FC2). This eye-catching bus with exterior images depicting a child blowing bubbles symbolizes a future of clean, renewable energy now taking place in the Coachella Valley.
This commercial hydrogen fuel cell bus is assembled with the following components: an advanced 40-foot bus chassis by New Flyer Industries; a 150 kW fuel cell from Ballard Power Systems, the latest commercially available ES Subsystem and EMD Subsystem from ISE Corporation, which incorporates both US based components and other components, such as Siemens drive components.
The bus features the latest advances in hydrogen fuel cell reliability, performance and weight reduction. Among the features: a smaller and lighter fuel cell power plant; lighter hydrogen storage tanks; a smaller fuel cell thermal management system; new and improved high voltage battery technology, as well as the latest in diagnostic tools and data collection.
With the support of our funding partners, California Air Resources Board, Federal Transit Administration, South Coast Air Quality Management District, CALSTART, Department of Transportation (funding the data and reporting) and the National Renewable Energy Lab, SunLine Transit Agency has realized another vision.
As the nation focuses on “green” technology and the independence of foreign oil, the agency’s new bus further demonstrates our continued commitment to the commercialization of 40-foot fuel cell buses.
CNG to hydrogen fueled vehicles
Going back a few years, a little history of SunLine traces our advancement in alternative fueled vehicles leading up to zero emission hydrogen fueled buses.
In 1994, SunLine was the first transit agency to convert its entire fleet of diesel-fueled vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG) fueled vehicles. SunLine already had its focus on hydrogen as the fuel of the future when I arrived in 2005.
However, I realized that the life span of the current fleet was quickly coming to an end. In June of 2008 we replaced and expanded the fleet with the latest in technologically advanced CNG vehicles. The fleet is now in great shape providing public transit using these environmentally friendly vehicles as we continue to concentrate on putting more zero emission hydrogen fueled buses into service.
SunLine’s history in hydrogen-fueled vehicles began in 2000 in partnership with the California Fuel Cell Partnership, conducting a 13-month demonstration of the ZEbus, a 40-foot New Flyer equipped with a Ballard fuel cell power plant.
Then on to the Thor 30 foot ISE drive system, UTC fuel vehicle. From there, in December 2004, the agency took great pride in placing into service, the “first in the nation” Hydrogen Hybrid Internal Combustion (HHICE) New Flyer bus.
Just one year later, SunLine received and put into service the hydrogen fuel cell bus, (FC1). These buses, and the newest addition of the AT fuel cell bus, are the hydrogen flagship of SunLine and continue to operate in service. Actively driven, monitored and scrutinized, these buses have racked up close to 200,000 miles to date.
While other transit agencies are only beginning to venture into the hydrogen arena, introducing a first generation hydrogen vehicle, SunLine now has six generations of hydrogen buses in service in the Coachella Valley. No other transit system in the United States can make that claim.
No intention of stopping at six
Watch for the next generation hydrogen fueled bus at SunLine Transit Agency in 2011.
We are currently working closely with the FTA as part of the National Fuel Cell Bus Program on the first American Fuel Cell bus. The bus represents a unique opportunity to compare technologies and to develop the market. SunLine has put together a new team to bring this bus into fruition consisting of BAE, El Dorado Bus and Ballard Power Systems.
Hydrogen station and infrastructure
The Agency continues its innovative role, focusing on sustainability through its state of the art public fueling station, SunFuels. In 2000, SunLine moved forward with the first public refueling station to provide hydrogen, as well as HCNG, a blend of hydrogen and natural gas. In 2006, SunLine took ownership of its two fueling stations taking of another first — the first transit agency to own and operate a hydrogen generation and dispensing station.
The hydrogen station has produced and dispensed over 26,000 hydrogen kilograms with 99 percent reliability. With the support of South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Federal Transit Association, SunLine recently upgraded the hydrogen station to a commercial reformer, upgrading the fuel island to include a dedicated hydrogen bus hose and a commercial third party card reader system.
The public and outside fleet customers can purchase hydrogen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Several automobile manufacturers received a SunFuels card to fuel their most recent hydrogen vehicle projects affirming that SunLine’s influence affects more than the transit industry. This station is part of Governor Schwarzenegger’s California Hydrogen Highway.
Serving as general manager of SunLine Transit Agency over the past six years, I share the pride of the board of directors and staff as we have continued through economic difficulty to focus on the agency’s mission to provide safe and environmentally-conscious public transportation services and alternative fuel solutions that meet the mobility needs of the Coachella Valley.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently recognized SunLine in the category of “Clean Air Technology” for continued leadership in the use of zero emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in service. EPA also recognized us as the first transit agency to own and operate a public hydrogen generation and dispensing station, SunFuels, which further demonstrates the continued commitment by the board of directors and SunLine staff to the commercialization of hydrogen as the nation watches.
SunLine continues to seek out worthy programs that benefit the entire transit industry and is willing to be a unit of measure, or a beacon of hope, to the future of the hydrogen landscape throughout the world. As a leader in clean air technology, SunLine brings the experience of the past to the present and into the future.
C. Mikel Oglesby serves as general manager for the SunLine Transit Agency, Thousand Palms, CA.