California: SunLine Transit Agency to trial cost competitive hydrogen production technology for bus refuelling
© SunLine Transit Agency

California: SunLine Transit Agency to trial cost competitive hydrogen production technology for bus refuelling

Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) will demonstrate a new technological combination to produce hydrogen from renewable natural gas (RNG) at SunLine Transit Agency’s hydrogen fuelling station in Thousand Palms, California.

News of the 36-month long project broke on Wednesday (21st April), with SoCalGas unveiling hopes to produce enough renewable hydrogen to fuel 17 hydrogen fuel cell electric buses and support further expansion – all of which will be carried out under the project name ‘H2 SilverSTARS’.

The demonstration project will integrate two core technologies, the first being Linde’s HydroPrime HC300 MIN system which will make hydrogen from renewable natural gas the same way large centralise hydrogen production plants do, but with compact equipment.

Read more: How Linde is scaling up to serve the growing hydrogen mobility market in North America

It is believed the commercialisation of this technology at SunLine’s fuelling station will be the first time it is deployed in North America. At the SunLine location, the technology will be able to produce up to 650 kilograms of hydrogen a day.

In addition to the above, a second technology, STARS-165 SMR, will also be demonstrated. Built by the start-up STARS corporation, the innovation takes the Linde system a step further.

Once operational, the STARS-165 SMR achieves significantly greater efficiencies in producing hydrogen by using a compact microchannel design and is driven by an electricity-powered induction heating process, meaning there is no combustion, which significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional hydrogen production.

Two STARS systems, with a combined production capacity of up to 330 kilograms of hydrogen a day, will be installed for this research project. All hydrogen produced at the site is hoped to be cost competitive with gasoline.

“These technologies could drastically change the face of hydrogen production in California, creating the opportunity for anyone to fill up their fuel cell electric car, truck or bus with low- or zero-carbon hydrogen anywhere there’s a natural gas pipeline,” said Neil Navin, SoCalGas Vice-President of Clean Energy Innovations.

“For SoCalGas, this is another step toward meeting our pledge to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045.”

Read more: SoCalGas to introduce hydrogen to achieve net zero by 2045

“Our agency has been a long-time advocate of advancing clean air and alternative fuel technology. This partnership with SoCalGas allows us to continue converting our fleet to zero-emissions five years ahead of state mandates,” added Lauren Skiver, SunLine Transit Agency’s CEO/General Manager and California Hydrogen Business Council Chair.

“It also helps us realise our goal of making hydrogen fuelling accessible to the public in order to inspire a cleaner tomorrow.”

California Assembly member Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Ex Officio Member of the California Air Resources Board, also welcomed the effort, stating, “I commend SunLine Transit Agency and SoCalGas for continuing to push the envelope, building on our technological capacity for renewable hydrogen, and elevating our region’s role in driving these innovations forward.

“Each advancement and production efficiency brings us closer to achieving California’s ground-breaking emission reduction, electric vehicle, and clean air goals.”

SunLine Transit Agency: Driving a hydrogen-fuelled future

Last year, H2 View sat down with Lauren Skiver, SunLine Transit Agency’s CEO/General Manager to find out about its hopes for a hydrogen-powered, zero emission future.

© SunLine Transit Agency

If it’s zero emission, SunLine Transit Agency wants to operate it. Driving a clean fuels agenda for more than 25 years, the Californian bus operator moves nearly five million riders annually in the Coachella Valley region, from Desert Hot Springs through to Palm Springs, via its zero emission fleet.

The progressive and passionate alternative fuels supporter currently has 17 hydrogen fuel cell buses and four all-battery-electric within its fleet, with a further eight fuel cell buses on the way.

“We’re technology agnostic,” SunLine’s CEO and General Manager Lauren Skiver enthuses. “We’ve developed a plan to go completely hydrogen by 2035. When I say completely, we’ll probably still have about 18 battery-electric buses in there. But the reason for that is when you’re scaling up hydrogen, you need to be able to pace the production side to the bus side. The production side is expensive.”

To keep costs down, SunLine has invested in its own hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and makes its own fuel for roughly $8 per kg. Skiver tells H2 View that if she had to buy hydrogen fuel on the open market, it would cost roughly $30 per kg, which might explain why the agency is only one of a few in California using fuel cell buses.

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