Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Hydrogen fleet World's First for Whistler

Convenient, accessible, affordable and clean public transit is a component of a sustainable event destination. This week the province of British Columbia announced Whistler, Canada as the home of the world's first fleet of hydrogen fuel cell powered buses, to be in operation in time for the Olympic Winter Games in 2010.

Hydrogen bus fleet to debut in Whistler
B.C. government announces $45-million for fuel-cell-powered vehicles, expected to hit the road by 2009


From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

May 1, 2007 at 2:50 AM EDT

VANCOUVER — Forget those noisy, diesel-belching dinosaurs you might think of as the standard for public transit.

By 2009 in Whistler, you should be able to hop on a whisper-quiet hydrogen-powered bus that leaves nothing in its wake but water vapour.

The mountain city, a host venue with Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympic games, has been chosen as home base for a fuel-cell powered bus fleet that's expected to showcase hydrogen technology — including, potentially, B.C.-designed systems — to a global audience.

“Our goal is to see the world's first fleet of fuel-cell buses on B.C. roads by the end of 2009 to showcase B.C.'s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the potential of hydrogen technology as an energy solution,” B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said Monday.

Speaking at a hydrogen and fuel-cell conference in Vancouver, Mr. Campbell also announced the latest infusion of $45-million in funding for the bus program, which is being paid for through an $89-million federal-provincial partnership.

Small numbers of fuel-cell- powered buses have been used in demonstration projects in cities in Europe and the United States over the past decade.

But the Whistler project, which is forecast to have 20 of the city's 30 or so buses running on hydrogen power, will be the largest fuel-cell-powered fleet in the world and the first project to make such vehicles the backbone of a public transit system.

The buses were one of numerous green initiatives outlined in February's Throne Speech, which committed the province to slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent from current levels by 2020.

Transportation accounts for about 40 per cent of B.C.'s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The size of the fleet is expected to help generate valuable information on technology that remains “pre-commercial,” Ron Harmer, vice-president of B.C. Transit, said.

The Crown corporation handles public transit throughout the province except in Greater Vancouver and will be running the Whistler fleet.

“Part of the objective of the program was to keep the buses together, to gain some experience around issues of operating and fuelling them,” Mr. Harmer said.

A March report on California's Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District's fuel-cell bus program found that the three fuel-cell powered transit buses in the project had an average fuel economy of 56 per cent higher than the fleet's standard diesel buses.

A fuel cell is an “electrochemical device” that combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen to produce electrical energy. The only byproducts are heat and water. Manufacturers are working on numerous vehicle applications, including fuel-cell hybrids. Common concerns about the technology are cost and safety issues around hydrogen fuel storage and handling.

The March report for Alameda-Contra Costa Transit found there had been no safety incidents since the buses were deployed in 2000. But several minor operating issues cropped up: fuel-cell buses were “significantly taller” than the diesel fleet, resulting in more need for tree trimming. In addition, because there was no audible signal that the fuel-cell system was turned on, drivers would sometimes run the buses without turning it on, draining onboard batteries and causing the buses to stall. That has been addressed with a software change that automatically starts the fuel-cell power system when the battery pack is low.


Ben said...

While I am all for alternative fuel vehicles, I do wonder at the funding breakdown for this project. Is it 45 million dollars Canadian (or 89 million) for 20 vehicles and infrastructure? While I applaud Whistler for taking the leap into this technology, it seems that waiting a few years for the costs to come down would be more advantageous of government resources.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. This is more about showcasing the technology and raising awareness, not cost. Having 20 buses to demonstrate environmental responsibility for an event like the Winter Olympics should have a large impact on awareness.

Besides, this is a great way to get extend and expand a successful pilot program.

“Part of the objective of the program was to keep the buses together, to gain some experience around issues of operating and fuelling them,” Mr. Harmer said.

While the cost is somewhat staggering (I couldn't find the cost for commissioning a similarly sized conventional fleet), I think this is a great first step, especially in a location where people go to appreciate nature in one of its purest forms.

Ben said...

As an aside, looking at the issue of opportunity costs, I don't even want to speculate how much more effective money spent on the last few Olympics could have benefited their host countries if spent elsewhere.

Maybe during the Cold War, the Olympics was a battling ground for the hearts and minds, but nowadays?? Does Whistler really need that much more recognition as a great place to ski and snowboard?

Maybe Beijing will become the most profitable Olympics since LA, but that's due to its large population and a burgeoning sense of nationality (that to me almost amounts to a new Pan Asia militarism).

oh well, that's a tangent....