International Fuelcellbus Collaborative

Featured Project: US Fuel Cell Bus Successes

Through the many demonstrations funded as part of the FTA’s National Fuel Cell Bus Program (NFCBP) and other sponsors such as US DOE, fuel cell buses are gaining relevance in America.  It is estimated that there will be 26 active fuel cell electric buses in the United States by the end of 2012.  Currently, there are active fuel cell bus demonstrations taking place in California, Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, and Washington state and future deployments planned for Illinois, Ohio, Alabama and D.C.  More and more transit operators are warming up to the idea of fuel cell buses after seeing successful demonstrations, such as the Zero Emission Bay Area (ZEBA) and CTTransit projects, which both demonstrate Van Hool buses powered by UTC fuel cells.

Three primary metrics used to measure success of the buses include availability, fuel economy, and miles between roadcalls (MBRC).  The Van Hool buses being demonstrated as part of the ZEBA and CTTransit projects have shown that increased fuel economy is one of the huge upsides of fuel cell buses.  The buses are averaging nearly 8 miles per diesel gallon equivalent (mi/DGE), which is double that of the diesel buses operating at the same transit agencies.  The NFCBP set a goal of 8 mi/DGE, which these projects have almost reached.  However, with engineering and design advances, it is easy to see that this mark will be far exceeded soon.


Source: NREL 2012 Annual Merit Review


A remaining challenge to fuel cell buses continues to be lower than desired availability.  The Van Hool buses in California and Connecticut have averaged slightly over 50% availability, which is below the target mark of 85%.  However, this is to be expected while the new designs of the buses are being perfected, and recently the availability has been improving. 

Source: NREL 2012 Annual Merit Review


The MBRC for the buses has also been less than conventional diesel buses.  However, the MBRC for the fuel cell system only is actually higher than the target of 10,000 miles.  The percent of unavailability that is due to the fuel cells is also very low, showing us that the fuel cell system is not the reason for the buses lower availability and MBRC in most cases, and these numbers are sure to improve with time.

Source: NREL 2012 Annual Merit Review


The 16 buses involved in the ZEBA and CTTransit projects are averaging about 1,500 miles per month in transit service.  Both the drivers and riders like the buses, and frequently comment on the quiet ride and environmental benefits of the zero emissions buses.  Demonstrations such as these have been extremely beneficial in achieving NFCBP goals, and are giant steps towards a wider commercialization of fuel cell buses.