Friday, June 27, 2008

Hydrogen Fuel-cell Bus, Another Loser Drives By

**Read the follow on articles, "Big Green Trucks" and "Hybrid Hummer Hums!"**

Alternative energy is great, so long as it is cost effective. As reported in Green Car Journal, and written about by Bill Visnic at Edmunds Auto Observer, in one 3 bus test, hydrogen fuel cells are a bust, big time.

Here is the background:

"To fulfill a California Air Resources Board requirement that operators of large bus fleets participate in a Zero-Emission Bus demonstration program, in 2005 the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority purchased three buses powered by early versions of fuel cells developed by Ballard Power Systems Inc. of Vancouver, Canada."

OK, I am all for pilots, prototypes and testing. Sometimes it leads to very successful outcomes, and other times they just miss the mark. That is why Boeing and Airbus do destructive testing of airplanes. However, before these pilots take place, there is usually a fairly accurate prediction of the outcome. Additionally, good business practices provide that if the predictions and assumptions are wildly off, the pilot is canceled.

In the case of Santa Clara, these buses were a complete flop. The article states that the usual cost per mile to operate a diesel bus is $1.61, however, with the hydrogen fuel cell system, it is $51.66. Further, the hydrogen fuel cell buses broke down with greater frequency and the cost to repair were significantly higher. A diesel bus has a per mile part cost of $0.34, while the fuel cell bus per mile part cost was $34.40. Wow! As if those figures weren't enough, the fuel cell bus broke down six times more than the diesel bus. So, about every 1000 miles, the fuel cell bus broke down. Would you tolerate that in any of your personal or fleet vehicles???

Not that this test was all bad, the company who made the bus, Ballard, has decided to exit the vehicle fuel cell business and sell the assets to Ford and Daimler. That my friends, is economic efficiency.

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