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Hydrogen fuelling station coming to Whistler

Don’t trade in your car yet



By Clare Ogilvie

There will be a fuelling station in Whistler for the new fleet of Hydrogen powered buses expected to be on the road by 2009.

But it’s not clear where the station will be located and it’s unlikely that it will open for public use.

“We have to have a fuelling station on the transit site,” said Bruce Rothwell, B.C. Transit’s project manager for fuel cell buses. “(But) there are some discussions going on right now around the fleet plan and new facilities.

“Generally speaking the public would not have access to the fuelling station because it is a transit operation.”

Work is also on-going to look at where the hydrogen would come from.

  Right now, said Rothwell, B.C. Transit does not have a preference one way or the other about the origins of the fuel and is waiting to see what industry proponents come up with.

“At this point we are leaving it up to the industry to tell us which is the best way to provide fuel for the buses and make sure that we have fuel always available and then how we produce it or bring it in is still to be determined,” said Rothwell reached in London, UK, at a fuel cell bus conference.

Fuel cells generate electricity from the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to make water. Instead of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, vehicles that use fuel cells emit nothing but water vapour.

The downside is that it takes energy to make the hydrogen. It can be produced by electrolysis, where electricity is used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Overall carbon dioxide emissions depend on how that electricity is generated. If, for example, it is made from entirely renewable sources, such as hydro or geothermal energy, it offers the chance of a zero–emission fuel.

But if the energy to create hydrogen comes from other sources, such as natural gas, there is less energy efficiency.

There have been several hydrogen busses used in pilot projects around the world, but the plan to bring 20 to Whistler makes it the largest fleet of its kind.

In previous programs problems had arisen when the busses were used in cold climates, as freezing temperatures could play havoc with the water in the engine.

But, said Rothwell, Whistler’s busses will be part of a new generation where the cold start problem is not such as issue.

Ideally the bus engines would be kept warm overnight, much as today’s diesel buses are plugged in during nighttime downtimes.

But even if they weren’t kept warm overnight the buses would fire up, said Rothwell.

Currently B.C. Transit is seeking a company to produce two test fuel-cell buses at a total cost of $10 million. They're expected to be ordered this spring and tested in Victoria.

A regular diesel bus, by comparison, costs about $400,000.

Following tests, another 20 buses are to be produced for a total of $89 million under a federal-provincial partnership.

B.C. is considered a global leader in fuel-cell technology. In 2004, then Liberal prime minister Paul Martin pledged more than $6 million to the technology, with $1.1 million to go to developing a "hydrogen highway" from Whistler to the Lower Mainland.