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AC Transit’s fuel cell bus breaks 25,000 hour operating record; demonstrating potential to meet diesel life cycle expectancy

The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) recently recorded a second history making event—25,000 hours of continuous operation of a Fuel Cell Electric Bus (FCEB #7). Just two years ago, the FCEB power plant set an international record for 20,000 hours of continuous operation. AC Transit says that with each accomplishment, it has advanced alternative fuel vehicles by both proving the durability of hydrogen fuel cell in daily revenue service and remaining at least one year ahead of federal recommendations.

The US Department of Energy and Federal Transit Administration established performance metrics and life expectancy for FCEBs. Traditionally, a public transit buses life expectancy is measured in terms of the number of miles on its diesel engine. A diesel engine’s life expectancy is 6 years or 250,000 miles before overhaul. The life expectancy of the fuel cell power plant is measured in terms of hours. Once AC Transit’s FCEB #7 recorded its 25,000-hour milestone, it demonstrated the potential for fuel cells to meet the equivalent life cycle expectancy similar to a diesel engine.

The fuel cell manufacturer expected the onboard power plant to operate just 4,000 hours. But we’ve created a team of maintenance professionals who have been industry leaders in FCEB and Zero Emission Bus (ZEB) technology; proving FCEBs are a dramatic leap forward in meeting the Advanced Clean Transit Regulations target of operating all zero-emission buses by the year 2040.

—AC Transit Board Director Chris Peeples

FCEB #7 is one of thirteen zero-emission buses operated by AC Transit. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory documents a series of successes of the AC Transit FCEB fleet including:

  • FCEB fleet operated 2,057,099 miles and accumulated 248,546 hours on the fuel cell power systems since being placed into service;

  • AC Transit has safely fueled its FCEB fleet 3,428 times with more than 76,932 kg of hydrogen fuel;

  • The fleet leading FCPP (Fuel Cell Power Plant) has surpassed 25,000 hours of operation in a public transit operating environment.

  • The FCEBs have experienced less brake wear compared to the conventional diesel buses. Only five out of the thirteen FCEBs have had brake relines since being placed in service. The highest-mileage bus that has not had a reline has surpassed 160,000 miles. The FCEBs benefit from regenerative braking.

The record-breaking success of FCEB #7 underscores the importance of the recently announced Fuel Cell Electric Bus Commercialization Consortium (FCEBCC) The FCEBCC will deploy 20 zero-emission fuel cell electric buses between northern and southern California. CTE is excited to provide project management oversight for this important project that demonstrates there is a clear business case for industry to invest in clean innovative technologies.

—Dan Raudebaugh, Executive Director of the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE)

To better demonstrate AC Transit’s work in the proactive use of zero-emission buses for daily revenue service, a FCEB traveled to Reno, Nevada in support of the APTA 2017 Bus & Paratransit Conference. While the Bay area has a variety of microclimates and terrains, generally the weather is mild and hilly topography is gradual. So after 16 years of continuous operation in these conditions, Reno was an opportunity to test the FCEB’s durability in inclement weather and steeper terrain.

As a result, one of the 13 fuel cell buses drove 224 consecutive miles (360 km). The FCEB traveled, virtually nonstop, in rain and snow flurries. Perhaps the FCEB’s most impressive accomplishment was its ability to climb the 7057 foot Donner Pass. The FCEB averaged 10.91 miles per gallon and completed the Reno drive in just over five hours.



Proper mix of recent FCs and improved solid state batteries will progressively replace current diesel bus fleets and long range heavy trucks. It may have to be mandated to accelerate a progressive switch.


At my average speed of ~20mph in crowded conditions as in the UK, 25,000 hours works out to 500,000 miles.

No wonder Toyota are confident enough to start work on offering fuel cell short range trucks, with their heavy milage cycles.

And no doubt the ones in the buses are not the final word in durability.

This is solid data.

Contrast that with the utterly unsupported claims for high mileage for big batteries, with little really solidly compiled data and nothing at all for more than 200,000 miles.

Maybe very high cycle life big batteries can be done.

We know we can do it with fuel cells.



So now we can get our daily dose of fossil fuels from fracking!!! LMAO!!!!

Joseph Wilder

Curious, how does cost per mile compare to Diesel?


ITM Power has signed a fuel contract with Honda (UK), which will purchase hydrogen at £10/kg (US$12.91/kg).

From the following this suggests a wholesale per *U.S.?* or 3.8 liter.

EPA combined/city/highway driving: 68/69/67 MPGe"

" At 10,000 psi, the tanks hold 5.5 kilograms of hydrogen (roughly equal in energy to 5.5 gallons of gasoline). In our experience, that provided a range of about 300 miles. In EPA testing the Clarity did better, posting a 366-mile range. Similarly, the EPA quotes a 68 MPGe combined number. We didn’t match the EPA figure—we almost never do—recording 57 MPGe."

AS CURRENTLY* the whole supply chain costs are higher than traditional fuels as well as the cost of the vehicles and technical challenges are higher as well as being seen not yet at scale for the required high levels of supply, Many commenters suggest the cost under favorable conditions will be approximately double that of petrol or diesel.

Battery systems are predicted to be as little as half that of fossil fuels under equivalent metrics.


There are so many considerations regarding the practical application of battery technology as well as the proposed H2 'economy' on both sides of the 'equation that the cost per Klm is not likely to that high a priority by the time the expected 2050 environmental targets are realised.

Given that research is well funded and that expected returns on those investments is positive, the sensible approach for the last decade(s?) has been to pursue both these e/H2 pathways, (fuel cells require batteries) as well as a plethora of supporting and associated technologies as complimentary when recognising the vast market niche spaces today and the expectation of increasing specialisation there seems to be a ready market for most any .. Specifically carbon reduction or neutral technology and an emerging market place still nascent for carbon negative technologies.

There are also many areas apart from transport and its supporting services including e energy and chemical carriers to supply power.

There are so many pollution or emission sources that are highlighted for investigation for harm reduction or even opportunity, that today's educators see that offering beneficial environmental services can, must and (easily) will overtake the old 'extractive economic paradigm.


The 37.8 million dollars in grants for the AC project and Sunline project will cover a grand total of 25 fuel cell busses. Those 25 will nearly double the total fuel cell busses in the US.

Meanwhile there were 94K battery electric busses sold world wide last year. Not only are electrics cheaper to operate and maintain they are now cheaper to purchase than diesel, gas, and CNG busses. Contrast that with the million dollars plus per FC bus.

FCs are making progress but they have a long way to go before they are financially viable. Their problem is that battery electrics are years ahead and also advancing.


By end of 2016, 156,000 e-buses were in service (about 98% in China).

FC buses where in service in much smaller number in about 20+ countries but the fleet was building up fast in China.

Clean H2 is still too costly. Price will have to drop to about $4/Kg to become competitive with diesel and electricity. It may take another 10 years for lower cost H2.


NREL produces an annual report on the FC projects in California. In the recent report covering 2016 all but 2 of the 23 FC busses in the US were in CA. They missed several of their goals for reliability, availability, serviceability, and range but those are minor things that would be expected in pilot projects involving new tech. The bigger challenge they face is creating a viable economic model. Currently the initial cost is prohibitive and the operational costs are improving but currently unsustainable as Harvey alluded to.

Per the NREL report the initial costs have fallen from 2.5 million per in 2010 to 1.8 million recently ...a decline of 28%. In that same time lithium ion batteries have declined 70%.


A lot of development work is currently taking place to slash FCs and H2 cost. Fully automated plants are being designed and built and will be in operation by 2020-2022 or so.

China can reduce FCs cost to 1/3 current cost by 2022 or sooner. Those may be Ballards, Toyotas, Hondas, Hyundai or local designed units. The same can be done with high pressure tanks, compressors, electrolysers and H2 made with excess REs.

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