A research team from the School of Engineering is part of a new project to design, manufacture, demonstrate and evaluate a hydrogen-fuel-cell bus that will be operated by the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA). The Center for Transportation and the Environment is coordinating the research project that is funded in part by the Federal Transit Administration. Five other teams, including one from Auburn University, also are playing critical roles in the project.
For its part, the UAB research team will test and evaluate the 30-foot-long hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered bus on a variety of routes when it begins carrying passengers through the UAB campus and metro Birmingham as part of the BJCTA fleet beginning in 2009. Specifically, UAB team members will evaluate the fuel cell’s success, performance and reliability.
“This testing in Birmingham gives us a chance to evaluate the fuel cell in a unique, real-world setting,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., the UAB research team leader and chair of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. The performance in the city’s brutally hot and humid summers and over the city’s hills and terrain will help the research team understand how well the bus performs in the real world and the maintenance that is required, he said.
“Only after studying these elements can we decide whether the hydrogen-fuel cell is a viable option to power vehicles in the future,” Fouad said.
Fuel cell as the future
The hydrogen-fuel cell is believed by many to be the successor to gasoline as the power source for the world’s automobiles. Federal legislation, including the Energy Policy Act of 2005, has funded U.S. efforts to make fuel-cell vehicles practical and cost-effective by 2020. The cells generate electrical power quietly and efficiently, without pollution. Heat and water are the only by-products of the alternative power source.
“We are very pleased and excited to begin this initiative, which will make a significant contribution toward the use of transit bus technologies that are less dependent on fossil fuels and, as a result, less harmful to the environment,” said Linda Lucas, Ph.D., dean of Engineering.
While gas and fuel costs are now well below record summertime highs, the fuel-cell research at UAB will prove critical because concerns over oil’s environmental impacts and finite future supply will continue the push toward alternative fuel and energy sources worldwide, said UAB researchers. Public education and outreach regarding the fuel cell’s potential environmental and community benefits will be provided during the term of the research by the university’s Environmental Awareness Research Technology and Health (EARTH) Center.
“There is a need for renewable, alternative fuel sources at every angle,” Fouad said. “Whether for reasons of costs, foreign-fuel dependency or environmental impacts, we must study alternative fuels and integrate them into society.”
Additional project players
Research project partner EVAmerica, LLC, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., will build the Ecobus in one of its Georgia facilities. Embedded Power Control Inc and Hydrogenics Corp. will develop the hydrogen-fuel cell and integrate it into the bus’ propulsion system. Fab Industries will manufacture the hydrogen-storage tanks for the vehicle at a facility in Anniston. Before joining the BJCTA fleet in Birmingham for UAB led research, the bus will be tested at the National Center for Asphalt Technology in Opelika by researchers from Auburn University.
The project conducted in part by UAB and the BJCTA is funded through early 2011.