Transportation Bill Starts New Fuel Cell Bus Program

While all the specifics of the energy bill are still being sorted out, a major hydrogen fuel cell program was just secured through the recent passage of the separate Federal Transportation Bill.

Congress approved $49-million in funding for the National Fuel Cell Bus Technology Development Program as a component of the just-passed $287-billion Transportation Equity Act of 2005. The four-year hydrogen and fuel cell bus research and development program will speed work to make hydrogen and fuel cell buses commercially viable, focusing on critical areas of technology development. WestStart-CALSTART, together with a national team of more than 30 bus makers, operators and technology developers, formed the National Fuel Cell Bus Technology Initiative (NFCBTI) and led the effort to ensure funding for this effort to keep America competitive in these new technologies. “In a time of tight budgets, we commend Congress for giving the U.S. an important chance to be a leader in technology than can help improve urban air quality and reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil,” said WestStart-CALSTART’s President and CEO, John Boesel. WestStart-CALSTART and NFCBTI supporters believe that the transit bus market is the best early market for the development and introduction of vehicular fuel cell technology. Transit’s centralized refueling stations and the ability to place hydrogen cylinders on the roof of a bus eliminate two major challenges to the introduction of fuel cells in passenger cars, the lack of refueling infrastructure and the space requirements for hydrogen storage. Transit also has a history of being first to introduce new fuels and technology. Europe has been an early leader in fuel cells for transit. The European Commission has already funded a major fuel cell bus demonstration program that has deployed and tested 32 early generation fuel cell buses in 11 different European cities. However, there is a tremendous need to improve the base technologies. In contrast to the European program, the U.S. program will focus more on the key technical challenges preventing fuel cell buses from becoming commercially viable. It will be a competitive, national program that will identify and support the nation’s best hydrogen and fuel cell teams and technologies for transit. The $49-million program runs from 2006-2009 to develop and validate systems that can lead to commercialization.