Public Release: 

Unique Hydrogen-Fueled Bus Joins Public Transit Fleet To Promote Clean Transportation

Georgia Institute of Technology

A coalition of academic, government and private industry partners has built a prototype hydrogen-fueled, electric-powered transit bus that produces near-zero emissions.

The H2Fuel Bus is the first vehicle to feature this unique hybrid power system, which uses hydrogen fuel stored in metal hydrides. It was delivered to the Augusta-Richmond County Public Transit in late April, where it will be used as part of regular operations for one year.

"There is no other hydrogen-fueled vehicle like this," said Charles M. Stancil, a senior research engineer in the Georgia Tech Research Institute's (GTRI) GTRI's role in the project was to integrate and test the 33-foot bus's internal combustion engine, electrical generator and drive motor, and metal hydride fuel storage system.

Bus Will Provide Information on Hydrogen Fuel

By using the bus as a public transit vehicle, researchers hope to gain valuable experience and raise public awareness and acceptance of hydrogen as an alternative fuel of the future.

"The actual transit experience over the next year will provide critical data for the commercialization of hydrogen vehicles," said Dr. William A. Summers of the Westinghouse Savannah River Co., another project partner. "Operating data will provide a measurement of the performance, reliability and maintainability of the various system components, primarily the hydrogen engine and the metal hydride storage system."

Primary sponsors of this technology transfer and economic development project include the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Augusta-Richmond County Public Transit. The metal hydride storage system was developed at DOE's Savannah River Site near Augusta and provided by the company that oversees this facility, the Westinghouse Savannah River Co.

Other major partners include the Southeastern Technology Center in Augusta, which is handling project management and public awareness activities; Hydrogen Components Inc. of Littleton, Colo.; the Education, Research and Development Association of Georgia Universities; and Blue Bird Body Co. of Fort Valley, Ga.

Hydrogen Ideal Replacement for Fossil Fuels

Proponents of hydrogen fuel say it is an ideal replacement for fossil fuels, which release gaseous oxides of carbon and nitrogen when they're burned, causing air pollution and contributing to global warming. Burning hydrogen fuel, in contrast, produces water vapor that contains no carbon dioxide (CO2) and little or no nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Although most hydrogen fuel in use today is produced with natural gas through a process that produces CO2, it can be created from water through renewable and non-polluting energy sources like wind and solar power.

"If you're concerned about the carbon cycle in the world, you have to look at hydrogen," said John C. Handley, a principal research engineer in GTRI's Aerospace Science & Transportation Laboratory. "We [think] we could get some real support from the environmental community for this."

Metal Hydrides Provide Hydrogen Storage

The technology of the H2Fuel Bus includes the metal hydride storage system, which fuels a standard internal combustion engine, which in turn drives a 70-kilowatt electrical generator that keeps the bus's batteries charged.

Metal hydrides are intermetallic alloys that, when cooled, absorb hydrogen gas into a solid form. The H2Fuel Bus uses a metallic nickel powder distributed in an aluminum foam material called Duocel®. When the hydrides are heated by energy from the bus's generator, they slowly release the hydrogen as a gas to power the bus's engine.

The bus currently carries 5,000 cubic feet of hydrogen and can travel over 100 miles before refueling. The electrical system is powered by 56 12-volt ElectroSource deep-discharge, lead-acid batteries, which charge continually while the hydrogen engine is operating.

H2Fuel Bus Different From Other Hydrogen Vehicles

Although the bus is unique, hydrogen-fueled vehicles are being developed throughout the world, most with more costly hydrogen fuel cells. In contrast, the internal combustion engine technology developed for the H2Fuel Bus offers a near-term, cost-effective alternative for cities trying to achieve near-zero emission levels, said Dr. Earl J. Claire, executive director of the Southeastern Technology Center.

Currently, widespread use of hydrogen is hindered by public perception about its safety and a lack of infrastructure for large-scale production and distribution. But researchers say metal hydrides allow hydrogen -- the universe's lightest gas and most abundant element -- to be converted from a highly reactive gas to a safe solid form.

Researchers say that if this project goes well, it could be a major step toward widespread acceptance of hydrogen as an alternative transportation fuel.

"We have met the challenge of making hydrogen a safe fuel for public transportation," said Dr. Mario Fiori, operations manager of the DOE's Savannah River Site. "Now the challenge is to make these buses more economical."

Other industrial participants for the H2Fuel Bus project include Energy Research and Generation Inc., Power Technology Southeast Inc., Air Products and Chemicals Inc., Air Liquide America Corp., and Northrop Grumman Corp.

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RESEARCH NEWS AND PUBLICATIONS OFFICE
430 Tenth St. N.W., Suite N-112
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Georgia 30318

MEDIA RELATIONS CONTACTS:
Georgia Tech: John Toon (404-894-6986);
Internet: john.toon@edi.gatech.edu;
fax: (404-894-6983)
Southeastern Technology Center: Jane McCoggins (706-722-3490;
Internet: JMcCoggins@aol.com

TECHNICAL:
Charles M. Stancil (770-528-3224) or
Dr. Earl J. Claire (706-722-3490);
Internet: charles.stancil@gtri.gatech.edu or
EJCLAIRE@aol.com.

WRITER: Amanda Crowell

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