Clallam Transit considers hydrogen

Zero-emission vehicles would replace diesel

PORT ANGELES — Clallam Transit Authority’s commissioners have learned the pros and cons of moving the public transportation agency’s fleet from diesel to zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell buses.

The upsides were notable: almost zero emissions, as well as longer ranges and faster fueling times than electric buses.

The downsides were compelling. Namely, hydrogen fuel cell buses would likely cost 50 percent more to operate than diesel buses, primarily due to the cost of the buses themselves — about $1.23 million each — and the cost of hydrogen fuel.

Clallam Transit has been exploring green technologies for its fleet of fixed-route buses, paratransit, van pool and dial-a-ride vehicles that use a combination of diesel, propane, gas and electric power.

“Currently, we are already transitioning our paratransit and service vehicle fleet to electric,” general manager Kevin Gallacci said during the Wednesday meeting.

“A ’24, ’25, ’27 timeline is ideal for our next steps.”

Project manager Tyler Dickens of HTEC of Vancouver, B.C., presented the feasibility study that included recommendations and estimated costs for bringing zero-emission vehicles online.

(In March 2022, HTEC acquired Zen Clean Energy Solutions, which Clallam Transit had originally contracted for $135,000 to conduct the study.)

Hydrogen fuel cell buses use compressed hydrogen to produce energy that powers an electric powertrain. The buses are fueled at hydrogen stations that use a hose and nozzle similar to those used at gas stations.

Rather than producing its own hydrogen, HTEC recommended Clallam Transit retrofit its existing transporation operations and add fuel stations, a project Dickens estimated would cost $5 million to $6 million.

Gallacci said Clallam Transit’s electric fueling station had been built to support up to 12 heavy-duty buses (although not all at the same time), but that would need to change.

“We’re talking about adding support vehicles and paratransit at some time, so it will need to be re-engineered,” Gallacci said. “So, there’s obviously more work to be done here as we move forward.”

On the whole, Dickens said, the advantages of hydrogen buses outweigh those of electric buses, which cost less than hydrogen but more than diesel buses.

“The key benefit over battery electric buses is fueling rate,” Dickens said. “We’re seeing hydrogen electric buses fueled in about 10 minutes compared to battery electric charging, maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe two hours being on your charger.”

That was an important consideration because Clallam Transit has a number of long routes in its service area, such as the Strait Shot from Port Angeles to Bainbridge Island and a schedule that takes riders from Port Angeles to Forks, Dickens said.

“The range is one of the best benefits of the hydroelectric buses, probably 30-40 percent increase over electric buses at the moment,” Dickens said. “But the reality is, it’s expensive right now.”

Commissioner Brendan Meyer, who has expressed his preference for electric over hydrogen technology, wanted to know how a switch to hydrogen would impact transit system employees, as well as its safety risks.

“When it comes to maintenance, what kind of training do we foresee with our maintenance operators and how is it going to affect them?” Meyer asked. “Is it a like comparable to diesel? What would our people have to be on the lookout for?”

Dickens said that, similar to propane buses, hydrogen buses use high-pressure gas that requires drivers and technicians to receive high-voltage training and instruction in how to safely handle the fuel.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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