Hydrogen-Fueled ‘Express’

The Anteater Express will be adding a new hydrogen-fuel cell powered bus by the summer of 2014. 

 

The Anteater Express has secured the use of a $2.4 million hydrogen-fuel cell powered bus to help replace its aging fleet, after previous attempts to procure a similar bus failed. The bus will be an estimated 40 feet long, as compared to the 30 foot long shuttles that are currently used by the Anteater Express, and will have increased seating capacity — while producing solely water vapor emissions.

The decision to accept the bus was made by administration after they were contacted by the bus manufacturer, Ballard Power Systems, a producer of hydrogen-fuel cell technology.

The bus’ original recipient, the San Francisco International Airport, originally ordered the bus through Ballard, which was covered by a federal grant from the Federal Transit Authority, but later changed their minds. Therefore Ballard, the recipient of the grant, had lost its customer, according to the Associate Director of Operations for the Anteater Express, Ryan Gripp.

“Ballard had applied to a fuel cell grant with the San Francisco Airport and they received the grant funding and San Francisco Airport pulled out of the grant for various reasons. Anyway, it was decided that they [San Francisco Airport] weren’t going to pursue this grant, which required a 30 percent match,” Gripp said.

After the San Francisco Airport backed out, Ballard looked to other potential operators. After another deal failed, Ballard representatives contacted UC Irvine with an offer which the administration accepted.

As part of the deal, the bus will be owned by its producer, Ballard Power Systems, but will be on loan to UCI for use by the Anteater Express. UCI will have possession of the bus without having to pay the required 30 percent up-front payment, as required by the FTA, for the grant while also allowing Ballard to build the bus and showcase it as a working example of hydrogen-fuel cell technology. This deal is beneficial to Ballard, as their goal was to produce the bus and not operate it, according to Gripp.

“Ballard, who will be manufacturing, is the primary recipient of the funds, and we will be operating the bus through the duration of the grant,” Gripp said. “Ballard’s interest is in manufacturing and not operating.”

The Anteater Express will not have to pay back Ballard directly. Instead of paying Ballard in cash, the Anteater Express will help Ballard by covering the maintenance costs of the bus while it will be in operation. Ballard will be able to show its bus as an example of hydrogen-fuel cell technology in action without paying for the maintenance of the bus itself.

News of the deal was well-received by the overseers of the Anteater Express at ASUCI. ASUCI President Traci Ishigo voiced her support of the deal and is pleased that UCI is showcasing new technology and getting a working bus for use for the shuttle service.

“We (ASUCI) not only approve of the fact that they have been able to get this grant so that UCI students can have this opportunity to have such an amazing new piece of technology, but we are really in support of it,” Ishigo said. “We think that if there are ways that the Anteater Express is taking initiative to cut down cost and get really cool equipment for free then we want to see that continuing to go on. I feel that that is evidence of the hard work that the staff tries to do.”

Ishigo later mentioned that she would support initiatives to get more similar buses if there was money available.

Representatives from Ballard were unable to comment on why they chose UCI. However, the former Assistant Transportation Director of the Transportation and Distribution Services, Mike Davis, who was involved in previous attempts to get a similar grant, believes that UCI was chosen because it is an ideal place to showcase new technology.

“As a university and a ‘city within a city,’ UCI is an ideal place to test and showcase new ideas and technologies,” Davis said. “With the combination of UCI’s Advanced Power and Energy Program, a hydrogen fueling station located on campus, its own shuttle program and a Transportation and Distribution Services department dedicated to pursuing sustainable transportation, it is no surprise that UCI was chosen to be a test location for cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell bus technologies.”

Since hydrogen-fuel cell technology is relatively new, there are few places that a hydrogen-fuel cell bus would be practical. However, the Advanced Power and Energy Program already has a working hydrogen fueling station in North Campus which allows UCI to be one of the few campuses with an infrastructure to fuel a hydrogen-powered bus.

Representatives from Ballard were unavailable to comment on the specifications of the bus. According to Ballard’s website, however, their buses are more energy efficient and quieter than comparable sized diesel or gasoline powered buses.

Instead of producing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, a hydrogen-fuel cell bus will produce water as a waste product with similar performance.

The bus is scheduled to be delivered and ready-for-use by summer 2014 and will debut on the VDC route according to the Office of the Anteater Express.