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Renewable Hydrogen Bus Teaches Thousands about Clean Energy Technologies

June 6, 2011

Thousands of people across the nation enjoyed a glimpse into a clean energy future thanks to the renewable-hydrogen-powered bus at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) supported the deployment of NREL’s bus, along with a dozen other hydrogen-fueled buses at federal facilities across the country, to demonstrate market-ready, advanced technology vehicles and showcase hydrogen fuel’s role in our nation’s portfolio of sustainable transportation options.

NREL showcased the bus at a variety of outreach events in the Denver area. The bus reached an extraordinary number of people during its tenure at the laboratory—more than 5,500 people visited NREL’s booth at the Taste of Colorado alone, with 93 media outlets featuring the bus in print, online, and television spots.

NREL also used the bus as the primary shuttle vehicle for visitors, members of the media, and new employees. All told, nearly 750 passengers rode in the bus during its 91 tours around the NREL campus.

One of the things that visitors found most intriguing was the fact that the hydrogen fueling the bus was produced using renewable resources.

The bus filled up at NREL’s on-site hydrogen fueling station, which dispenses hydrogen made with wind and solar energy. The hydrogen at the station is produced via water electrolysis as part of the wind-to-hydrogen project, which uses wind turbines and photovoltaic arrays to power electrolyzer stacks that split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

More about H2ICE Vehicles
Ford Motor Company was one of the first automakers to develop hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines (H2ICEs), which use the same basic technology as gasoline-powered engines but run on hydrogen fuel. Only modest design adjustments are needed to switch a gasoline-powered engine to a hydrogen-powered engine, such as specifically designed spark plugs and alternate materials for valve seats and other parts that may become brittle when exposed to hydrogen, so the engine technology is familiar to mechanics and fleet personnel.

The use of hydrogen from renewable resources as an alternative fuel in vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs) has the potential to provide significant benefits in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and the use of imported oil. Hydrogen contains no carbon, so a hydrogen-powered ICE does not emit carbon dioxide at the point source. In addition, since hydrogen burns cleaner than other fuels, hydrogen-powered ICEs can help improve air quality by reducing emissions of criteria pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Finally, hydrogen can be produced using domestic resources, so its use could help reduce our dependence on imported oil.

Fast Facts about Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

  • Hydrogen can be made from a wide variety of domestic, renewable resources such as solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal energy.
  • Enough hydrogen is produced in the United States every year to fuel 34 million fuel cell vehicles. Right now the hydrogen is used primarily for commercial and industrial purposes such as cleaning up petroleum fuels and ammonia.
  • Hydrogen is neither more nor less hazardous than more common fuels like natural gas, propane, or gasoline.
  • Hydrogen is up to 25 percent more efficient than gasoline in conventional spark ignition engines and more than twice as efficient in fuel cell power trains.
  • With very few cost and technical issues limiting commercialization and deployment, H2ICE vehicles can help create the demand needed to support the build out of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

What’s Next?
NREL recently commenced its 6-week lease of a Kia fuel cell electric vehicle for display at an assortment of summer events. Stay tuned to this website for event times and locations.

Learn more about hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and NREL’s hydrogen and fuel cell research.

EERE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program conducts comprehensive efforts to overcome the technological, economic, and institutional obstacles to the widespread commercialization of fuel cells and related technologies. The Program works with partners in industry, academia, non-profit institutions, and the national laboratories.


—Julia Thomas