Top corporate executives and transit officials Thursday attended the North American Fuel Cell Bus Conference at Kent State University Statrk campus nd discussed the future of future cell technology.
JACKSON TWP. The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority expects to have at least 13 hydrogen fuel cell buses within the next year.
But will the technology, which its backers say result in zero emissions or pollutants, take a significant role in Stark County residents' lives, cut local air pollution and become the jobs engine that some envision?
Many who work in the fuel cell industry believe the platform has a bright future.
On Thursday, company executives and transit officials tied to the field attended the North American Fuel Cell Bus Conference at Kent State University Stark campus to discuss fuel cell energy's progress and where it goes from here. The conference is set to conclude Friday.
SARTA's CEO and Executive Director Kirt Conrad has embraced fuel cell technology and believes it could boost the local economy if enough companies that serve roles in the fuel cell industry supply chain grow or relocate here.
With SARTA having the largest fuel-cell bus fleet east of the Mississippi River, he helped organize the conference, which featured nearly 30 speakers, some from Canada and a transit official from the United Kingdom along with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who all talked about aspects of the fuel cell economy. SARTA gets its hydrogen shipped from a plant in Ontario, which is the site of some companies in the fuel cell industry.
Conrad has hosted events locally for people who work in the fuel cell industry to promote Stark County as a future site for companies involved in the fuel cell supply chain, and he's sought to raise the profile of the technology in the community. In early October, he invited members of the public to check out a hydrogen fuel cell bus that visited each of SARTA's four transit stations.
One of the topics discussed was "Proven Reliability and Future Support," where those tied to the industry talked about the reliability of fuel cell energy and its future.
Among the highlights:
• Andreas Truckenbrodt, CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, in a keynote speech said the initial elements of the hydrogen fuel cell industry were in place, many of them implemented by Canadian companies. He likened the situation to a party that was getting started. "We delivered the equipment and the sound system and the food and the drinks on time," he said. "Fuel cell buses are ready. Let's dance."
• Truckenbrodt conceded setbacks in the platform's progress, notably when BC Transit in British Columbia sold off the hydrogen fuel cell buses it had bought to showcase in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics because of the higher operating costs, some of it due apparently to the cost of shipping hydrogen from eastern Canada.
• Nico Bouwkamp, technical project manager for the California Fuel Cell Partnership, said when it came to electric battery technology, the transit industry does not have an agreed-upon charging standard. So if a transit agency buys electric buses that run on batteries, it risks being tied to the proprietary charging standard of one company.
He said the increased production of fuel-cell buses has resulted in the cost of a bus dropping below $900,000 in the U.S. and below $700,000 in Europe. But the cost is dropping "slower than normal." He said transit agencies are competing for the same pool of federal grant dollars to buy electric and fuel-cell buses. SARTA paid about $1.4 million for the four buses it has now, which began to be delivered last year.
• Leslie Eudy, senior project leader of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said fuel cell buses have shown themselves to be reliable. She said the buses of Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District in California averaged 13,000 hours of service. "I see this as a real success," she said, adding that transit maintenance workers have progressed along the learning curve of caring for fuel cell buses.
• Yeshwanth Premkumar, program manager of BAE Systems, which made the electrical drive trains for SARTA's fuel cell buses, said the industry can't rest on its laurels. "There's going to be another competing technology that shows up. ... There has to be more that happens that really gets more of this to the next level. ... We know that bus costs have to come down. We're working on it. We know that infrastructure cost has to come down. We're working on it."
Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @rwangREP.