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First hydrogen fuel cell bus in operation this week

Suzuki Foundation thinks transit funds would be better spent elsewhere



Whistler commuters will see the first hydrogen-powered bus by the end of the week.

It is already in town and undergoing commissioning.

"Everything seems to be going well," said Joanna Morton, spokesperson for B.C. Transit.

"...In a month or so we will be seeing all 20 (hydrogen-powered buses) up there so we are quite excited."

It is hoped that those riding the bus will be able to get information about the hydrogen power source and how the bus works, she added.

The ride is expected to be smoother and quieter than regular diesel buses. The only emission is water.

Once the buses arrive in Whistler, they will be kept at the new transit facility currently under construction near Nesters Road, for which the municipality is required to pay half the costs, over a 30-year period.

The $89.5 million hydrogen bus project is being funded with $45 million from the Government of Canada and $44.5 million from the province and B.C. Transit.

The hydrogen-fuelled vehicles are assembled in Winnipeg and transported to Vancouver by trailer. They are then driven to Victoria where technicians do preparation work before the buses are sent to Whistler.

The hydrogen fuel used this year will come from HTEC in North Vancouver. This hydrogen gas is recovered from chemical plant waste gases, which would otherwise be vented into the air. The majority of the waste gas is hydrogen (99 per cent) that is purified for use in fuel cell buses.

But HTEC cannot provide enough fuel for all 20 buses so in 2010 the hydrogen will be trucked out from Air Liquide Canada Inc. in Quebec, until a source is found in B.C.

"The hydrogen is produced from 98 per cent renewable resources and is generated by electrolysis, predominantly using hydro-electricity," said Morton by e-mail.

"It will be liquefied and transported to Whistler by truck.

"There is approximately a 62 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas compared to traditional transit diesel fuel.

"The remaining 38 per cent is due to the production and transportation of the fuel from Quebec to Whistler."

So of the 100 per cent reduction in emissions by using the Hydrogen buses, nearly 40 per cent of those savings are being used up in the trucking of the fuel from Quebec.

It is nearly 5,200 kilometres to Whistler from the Air Liqude site in Quebec, if the most direct route through the United States is taken. It's even longer if the trucks stay in Canada.

To power a diesel bus generates the equivalent of 2,000 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. A bus using hydrogen, even when the fuel is shipped across the continent, emits 800 grams per kilometre.

The hydrogen buses do, however, cost much more than a diesel bus: $2.1 million each. And the infrastructure to fuel them cost millions.

It is one of the main reasons climate change campaigner Ian Bruce of the David Suzuki Foundation is troubled by the project.

"When it comes to public transit the case is unclear whether it will be a potential solution and certainly right now there are a lot more cost-effective solutions for reducing emissions and getting more people on to public transit," he said.

"It is fine to be scoping out technologies of the future, but we would rather see the government make the transit plan a reality versus spending the limited amount of public funding that we have on this."

Like a battery, fuel cells convert chemical energy directly into electricity. Specifically, a fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen (air) to produce electricity, heat and water. A fuel cell does not require recharging. As long as hydrogen fuel and air are supplied, the fuel cell will continue to produce DC electricity

The fleet is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,800 tons per year and is part of the province's $14 billion Provincial Transit Plan, announced in January 2008, to cut similar emissions by 4.7 million tons cumulatively by 2020.



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