Warrior Transition Battalion goes green with new hydrogen bus
October 26, 2011
By Suzanne Ovel
From the outside, and, well, from the inside too, it looks like almost any other city bus-- with bright designs, individual passenger seats, and handicapped-accessible features.
But the Warrior Transition Battalion's newest bus, to begin running shuttles this month, is remarkable in what makes it run-- an electric battery whose life is extended by a hydrogen fuel cell.
In other words, the WTB is getting a lot more environmentally-friendly by using an alternatively-fueled bus, as part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency for the Hydrogen Demonstration Project.
"It shows the Warrior Transition Battalion is a leader in trying to go green," said Chip Townsend, the WTB's transportation coordinator.
Going green is something the federal government has been looking at for quite a while, according to Lou Fernandez, who is a national fuel cell bus consultant for partners with Signature Transportation Parts and Service, Inc.
The resident expert and liaison for the one-year pilot program at JBLM, which also includes 19 hydrogen-fueled forklifts, helped build the alternative-fueled bus.
The hydrogen bus fits into JBLM's goal of reducing air emissions; the hydrogen bus simply emits water from the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, as opposed to a diesel bus which emits particulates, soot and noxious fumes.
The heart of the vehicle's power source is the six-pack bank of batteries under the bus.
Normally, after every 40 miles the battery pack would need to recharge, said Fernandez.
Add on the hydrogen fuel cell extender, and the bus can travel for 268-308 miles without refueling.
Because hydrogen gas is known to be flammable, the designers put redundant safety measures in place, said Fernandez.
The hydrogen tank is located atop the bus; the bus can automatically lock down and seal off the tank if needed; and if need be, the whole vehicle will shut down.
"It's smart enough, she knows she doesn't have to run anymore," said Fernandez.
With a top speed of 58 miles per hour, the hydrogen bus is meant for city driving, he said.
This is a good fit for driving on base, where the average speed limit is 30-45 miles per hour, said Townsend.
At $1.4 million, the hydrogen bus is roughly twice as costly as its diesel counterparts, but comparing costs can be tricky.
The hydrogen bus does need regular oil changes and filter replacements, and it's expected to last four years longer than diesel buses.
Also, the initial hydrogen bus price includes research and development costs, said Fernandez. He said that some rethinking is needed in going green.
"We have to change our minds that we are trying to change the environment for our kids and grandkids," he said.
Programs like this pilot help create this change by refining the development of hydrogen fuel. The pilot will measure the range, performance and safety of the bus, as well as gauge the technology itself and how to improve it.
Goals of the pilot program include to advance the technology of reforming waste digester gas (which here means converting methane to hydrogen) and the commercialization of hydrogen gas use, said Terry Austin, the base's pollution prevention program manager.