The recent dip in gas prices doesn’t change the need to aggressively pursue alternative fuel sources, says UAB researcher Fouad H. Fouad, Ph.D., who is leading a School of Engineering team to develop a hydrogen cell-powered transit bus that is expected to be operational in Birmingham next summer.
The Birmingham Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Powered Bus Project is under the direction of UAB and involves four other teams to design, manufacture, demonstrate and evaluate a 30-foot prototype bus in the heat, humidity and streets of Birmingham.
|This Eco-Bus was purchased from California to use as the test vehicle for the new hydrogen cell-powered transit bus project led by UAB’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering.
“Really, Birmingham is the perfect area to test a vehicle like this,” says Fouad, chair of the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. “With air conditioning we’re going to be putting some load on the vehicle, and when you test a new technology you really want to test it in the most strenuous environment you can. If it’s not going to work in this environment there’s no use having it.”
The Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) will run the bus once it becomes operational. The Center for Trans-portation and the Environment is coordinating the research project – funded in part by the Federal Transit Administration through a congressional earmark from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. – to research alternative fuels and hydrogen as an energy source. Five other teams, including ones from Auburn University (vehicle testing), EVAmerica (bus design, construction and integration), Center for Transportation and the Environment (planning), Hydrogenics Corporation (fuel cells) and BJCTA (bus operation and hydrogen storage and refueling) also are playing critical roles in the project.
“This is a big project and we tried to keep all of our partners in the Southeast,” Fouad says. “Essentially, we’re trying to find out what the best technology is for the future and how reliable it is — in this case, how reliable is the battery and range and operation of the bus.”
A lightly used bus called the Eco-Bus originally manufactured by EVAmerica was purchased from California to use as the test vehicle for the project. The bus, which originally was completely electric, is being re-modified and rebuilt into a 30-foot, low-floor transit vehicle that will carry MAX passengers. It will run mainly on batteries with two 16-kilowatt fuel cells acting as supplemental power in this first phase of the study.
The efficiency of the bus will be compared to regular diesel and natural gas buses in the BJCTA fleet.
Initial performance and operational data will be collected while operating the vehicle on the National Center for Asphalt Technology’s 1.7-mile oval test track at Auburn. The team will develop and evaluate operations, performance and maintenance requirements on the streets of Birmingham after the controlled testing.
BJCTA will coordinate closely with UAB to test and evaluate the fuel cell bus on a variety of routes.
“The Federal Transit Authority is very excited about this project and discovering how the fuel cell combined with the battery technology will work and how efficient and reliable it can be,” Fouad says.
Safe for environment
Other School of Engineering faculty members assisting Fouad in the study are Jay Goldman, Ph.D., Jason Kirby Ph.D., Robert Peters, Ph.D., Virginia Sisiopiku, Ph.D., and Andrew Sullivan, a research engineer. Each has extensive experience in vehicle simulation, testing infrastructure development, energy storage, transit planning and evaluation.
Hydrogen-fuel cells generate electrical power quietly and efficiently without polluting the environment. Heat and water are the only by-products, making it an ideal energy-producing resource.
“There are many possible benefits to this research and certainly one of the biggest is environmental,” Fouad says. “You wouldn’t have the emissions and greenhouse gases. You resolve all of the environmental problems on one end, but you also have a source of renewable energy. We also wouldn’t be dependent on oil and gas coming from foreign countries, and there’s no question that’s important to the future.”
Fouad says he hopes the next phase of the project will be more fuel-cell dominant with the battery research being supplemental. He says it’s possible high-tech lithium batteries could be used in the next phase.
“Because this bus is a fuel cell bus, BJCTA will have space for recharging its batteries,” Fouad says. “The future fuel cell-dominant test design will have a smaller battery and potentially no charging requirements.”