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Fuel Cell Bus Fills up at NREL’s Hydrogen Fueling Station

Photo of bus at fueling station

This fuel cell bus filled up at NREL's hydrogen fueling station after its stint at the Olympics.

April 12, 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver featured an international showcase for advanced vehicles, including the fuel cell bus that recently filled up at the hydrogen fueling station at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Thanks to a new fueling agreement, drivers with NREL approval can now gain access to the station for fueling their hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The station was constructed last year at NREL’s National Wind Technology Center near Boulder, Colo. The hydrogen dispensed at the station is produced via renewable electrolysis as part of the wind-to-hydrogen (Wind2H2) demonstration project. A partnership between NREL and Xcel Energy, the Wind2H2 project integrates wind turbines and photovoltaic arrays to electrolyzer stacks that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then compressed and stored for later use.

“The station was designed to accommodate a full range of vehicles—from light-duty cars and SUVs to full-size buses,” said NREL’s Leslie Eudy. “This was the first bus to fuel at the station.”

NREL is evaluating the prototype bus as part of its extensive technology validation efforts. NREL first began evaluating hydrogen-fueled transit buses in 2000, and has since published reports on fuel cell bus performance and fleet experience for several transit agencies in the United States.

Designed and manufactured by Proterra in Golden, Colo., the plug-in hybrid-electric fuel cell bus combines a unique bank of fast-charge, lithium-titanate batteries with two 16-kW Hydrogenics fuel cells. The vehicle operates in a similar fashion to other plug-in hybrids, but instead of having a gas- or diesel-powered engine to extend its range, the Proterra bus uses hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cells, which are fed from tanks located on the vehicle's roof, transform hydrogen and oxygen into electricity to charge the batteries. The bus emits only water vapor.

“Proterra is a new bus manufacturer,” added Eudy. “This gives us an exciting opportunity to evaluate yet another fuel cell system design.”

After its demonstration at the Olympics, the bus returned to Golden for routine maintenance and testing, and then traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, where it’s in service at the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority and the University of South Carolina’s transit fleet.