SunLine Transit Agency of Thousand Palms, CA has taken delivery of two new eight-generation fuel cell buses, each powered by a Ballard FCvelocity-HD6 fuel cell module. These new buses evolve the previously deployed seventh-generation American Fuel Cell Bus (AFCB) configuration, which was first introduced with SunLine Transit Agency in 2011. (Earlier post.) SunLine is a longstanding leader in the deployment of clean transportation technologies in the United States; the agency converted entirely to CNG from diesel more than 20 years ago.
The AFCB has a fuel-cell-dominant hybrid electric propulsion system in a series configuration. The AFCB configuration utilizes Ballard’s FCvelocity-HD6 fuel cell module to provide primary power, in combination with BAE Systems’ HybriDrive propulsion and power management systems deployed in an ElDorado National 40-foot (12-meter) Axess model, heavy duty transit bus.
A June 2013 report prepared by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Battelle Memorial Institute and published by the Federal Transit Administration compared performance of the initial American Fuel Cell Bus (AFCB) deployed with SunLine Transit Agency to a number of CNG buses. Findings included:
The AFCB achieved an exceptional availability of 85%. Furthermore, downtime was most often caused by general bus system issues of a “low-tech” nature, unrelated to advanced technologies.
The AFCB averaged 6.54 miles per kilogram of hydrogen during operation. This equates to 7.39 miles per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE), which is 2.4 times greater fuel economy than that of the baseline CNG buses.
Maintenance cost per mile for the AFCB was 26% lower than for CNG buses. Furthermore, maintenance cost per mile for the propulsion system alone was 50% lower than for the baseline CNG buses.
The reliability and performance of this bus in revenue service shows the maturity of the fuel cell hybrid technology. We’re excited to build on the success of the first AFCB bus with these next generation fuel cell buses.—Tommy Edwards, Deputy Chief Performance Officer for SunLine Transit Agency
These two additional fuel cell buses—supported by the FTA program Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER)—will bring the total number of Ballard powered fuel cell buses at SunLine Transit Agency to four. In 2013 Ballard signed extended service agreements with SunLine Transit Agency that will support bus operation for up to ten years, demonstrating SunLine’s continued commitment to the operation of these buses.
Ballard’s 150 kW power module features a control unit which interfaces with a system controller, making it a “plug-and-play” product for any fuel cell or hybrid fuel cell bus platform. The module also offers significant advances in durability, power density and fuel efficiency compared to earlier generation products.
In their concluded remarks in the FTA report, Leslie Eudy from NREL and Kevin Chandler from Battelle noted that:
Moving the technology to commercial deployment and meeting DOE/DOT price targets will require cost reductions at the component level. This is challenging under the current financial climate with limited funding availability. FCEB development needs several design iterations to improve reliability and reduce overall platform costs. Large-scale deployments will help push the process forward and drive down the cost. There is also a need for stable supply chains for advanced components such as batteries. Recent economic and market developments have resulted in both consolidation and suppliers shifting their product focus to other areas in the market, slowing the pace of commercialization of fuel cell bus systems.
For FCEBs to be fully commercialized, the fuel cell hybrid propulsion system needs to be an option offered by the bus OEM in response to increased market demand, as is the case with current diesel hybrid systems. Hybrid buses are currently offered by most OEMs, which order and install the propulsion system at the bus manufacturing plant. BAE Systems’ role is as supplier and integrator of propulsion and electric power systems that enable the capability offered by the OEM. In the case of the AFCB project, the integrator and transit agency have taken the lead role in developing the bus. This role needs to transition to the bus OEM for the technology to be fully adopted. The current market for FCEBs is small and has not led any bus OEMs to take on this lead role. With the SunLine TIGGER order for two AFCBs, the team is taking steps to make this transition. The first bus glider will be shipped to BAE Systems for integration of the propulsion system. BAE Systems will work with ElDorado staff to complete the installation. The second bus will be entirely built at the ElDorado factory with support of BAE Systems.