Hydrogen fuel cell bus

Project history and background

CLEVELAND -- Several years ago, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) asked for proposals for a "National Fuel Cell Bus Program."

The program gave an award to the Northeast Advanced Vehicle Consortium, a non-profit corporation, to conduct research.

On May 15, 2012, the Board of Trustees of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) approved resolution #2012-45. The Board authorized RTA to:

  • Enter into an interagency agreement called the Space Act Agreement with the NASA Glenn Research Center, for installation of a hydrogen fuel tank for $50,000. This includes the loan of a hydrogen fuel electrolyzer from NASA.
  • Lease a hydrogen-fueled bus from Transit Leasing Inc., a subsidiary of UTC Power (United Technologies Company), for testing and evaluation for no more than one year, at no cost to RTA. RTA will pay for the operation and maintenance of the bus and fueling equipment. 
  • Work with Sierra Lobo, a NASA subcontractor, as well as NASA staff, to bring the bus and fueling station online and into service for RTA. 

The bus was manufactured by Van Hool NV of Belgium, and is equipped with a PureMotion® Model 120 fuel cell power plant. UTC Power purchased it through the Alamedia Contra Costa Transit District of Oakland, CA

Current status

The bus and fueling equipment are housed at RTA's Hayden Garage, 1661 Hayden Road, East Cleveland. The garage already has fueling equipment, because it formerly housed buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The garage has more than 50 sensors that detect gas leaks and automatically turn on the ventilation. These sensors have been modified for hydrogen.

On Dec. 10, 2012, the bus started service on various RTA routes. It is being used in revenue service for 60-80 hours a week, on a number of routes, to help promote and educate the public about the safety of hydrogen technology. The 40-foot bus has a capacity of 57 passengers.

What are the benefits for RTA?

RTA is the first transit system in Ohio – and one of the few in the nation -- to produce its own hydrogen fuel using electrolysis, a process that separates water into hydrogen and oxygen. Customers on various routes experience a quieter and greener ride, powered by hydrogen, not diesel.

Both RTA and NASA support the development of new technologies, and clean and renewable energy sources.

In 2011, NASA proposed a partnership with RTA to install the first hydrogen fueling station in Ohio that uses electrolysis -- separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The fuel station will highlight NASA technology -- hydrogen sensors -- and serve as public outreach to demonstrate the benefits of fuel cell and electrolyzer for technology for popular use.

The goal is to demonstrate the safety and reliability of hydrogen production using electrolysis. The fuel cell bus is powered by hydrogen and reduces harmful emissions -- the only emission is water vapor. The idea is that the bus is operated in actual service conditions to gather data on its durability and reliability. RTA will assist in that evaluation by looking at fuel efficiency, maintenance issues and other areas.

RTA may be eligible for future federal grants. The bus and equipment, estimated at more than $2.1 million, are being leased at no cost.

Safety information

  • The garage is protected by security cameras and a security-chained fence. The hydrogen fueling station and fueling tanks are surrounded by an additional fence.
  • Transit Police patrol the site regularly. Bus operators and mechanics, the East Cleveland Fire Department and other emergency responders have been trained on safety, prevenative maintenance and repair.
  • Sensors have been tested by Integrated Sensing Solutions, a third-party vendor and sensor specialist. They will be tested and reviewed quarterly.
  • The hydrogen station complies with all safety standards.

Community outreach

RTA, NASA and the City of East Cleveland will print and distribute educational materials to residents and school children, and make these materials available on the bus.

NASA has posted a press release with a video on how electrolysis works.

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