CUTRIC ZEB Conference: Fuel cell electric buses vs battery electric buses

CUTRIC ZEB Conference: Fuel cell electric buses vs battery electric buses

When Terry Howe moved to British Columbia to join Ballard Power Systems for a two-year period, never did he imagine that 26 years later he’d still be with the company loving what he’s doing, developing fuel cells.

That’s the story Howe told today (19th March), during his presentation at the first annual Zero Emission Bus Technology & Transit Operation Conference, hosted by the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC).

Sharing his story with the audience, Howe, said, “I’ve done engineering roles for about half of my time at Ballard and then the latter half has been in commercial roles. I look forward to sharing information about hydrogen fuel cell busses with you all.”

Speaking about Ballard’s fuel cell electric bus (FCEB) footprint, Howe explained that the there are thousands of fuel cell busses operating today with Ballard fuel cell technology inside and that these vehicles range in size.

Focusing on specific regions, Howe, said, “Today, we [Ballard] has two North American OEMs that can provide hydrogen fuel cell busses with Ballard technology inside. In Europe there are four OEMs, and in China, more than more than a dozen that all can provide a hydrogen fuel cell bus with Ballard fuel cell modules inside.”

“A fuel cell bus is effectively an electric bus,” he explained. “And many of the OEMs have a common platform between their battery electric and fuel cell electric busses. Effectively, what these companies do is remove part of the batteries and replace those batteries with storage and the hydrogen fuel cell module.”

“There are few benefits to this, and one is range. By making this move, instead of a having a typical battery electric bus in the 150-mile range, you can get upwards to the 300-mile range, and that enables to fuel cell buses to really be one up.”

“Another benefit is the significant reduction of weight, and this allows a FCEB to transport the same number of passengers when compared to a diesel bus. Lastly, fueling time is another significant feature. The fueling time of a FCEB is similar to a diesel, and instead of waiting three of four hours to recharge a battery bus, you’re looking at six to ten minutes refueling time.”

Reflecting on the significant pros of FCEBs, Howe explained that all of the factors enable flexibility, and it allows the OEM to be able to provide the right form of transport.

Californian bus market

After an introduction to the technology, Howe then went on to focus on the Californian FCEB market. “Definitely, when it comes to introducing zero emission vehicles, California is taking the lead within North America,” he enthused.

“They’ve [California] has introduced innovative clean transit regulations. Those regulations require the transit agencies to purchase 25% zero emission busses by 2023. And that’s moving to a full 100% of all busses. Must be zero emission busses beginning in 2029.”

“That will translate to, in effect, all busses on road by 2040 to be zero emission busses.”

Sharing information that Californian transit agencies have reports, Howe explained that at this time, it is predicted that 24% of those future bus purchases will be fuel cell buses, 46% will be battery electric buses, and 30% is still yet to be determined.

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