Test hydrogen bus gets thumbs up 

click to enlarge Nice Bus, Man The hydrogen fleet will head to Whistler roadways as early as August 2009
  • Nice Bus, Man The hydrogen fleet will head to Whistler roadways as early as August 2009

Some of B.C. Transit’s 20 hydrogen buses will be cruising Whistler’s roads as early as August next year.

After months of testing, the provincial Crown agency gave a trial bus its approval. Now the manufacturing companies, New Flyer Industries Canada and Ballard Power Systems, are gearing up to build the rest of the fleet of fuel cell buses.

The first batch of buses will be ready in August, said Joanna Morton, spokesperson for B.C. Transit, and the rest should be completed by December 2009.

Once complete, B.C. Transit’s fuel cell fleet will be the largest in the world. The buses will be showcased during the Olympics and remain in Whistler afterwards.

Engineers drove the pre-production bus for 575 total hours in Victoria and Whistler, including a few 16-hour-straight stints.

“We tested it out on runs to see how the fuel efficiency was, how the battery life was, and how was the weight and grade-ability,” said Morton.

“We were able to make a couple tweaks, and bring it back to New Flyer and Ballard based on some of those conditions.”

The fuel cell buses have more than double the efficiency of an internal combustion engine. And they have a range of 450 kilometres and a life expectancy of 20 years, said Morton.

Not all are on board with the provincial and federal government’s hydrogen program, however.

“It is unfortunate that politicians tend to jump on these bandwagons of so called environmentally friendly technologies without taking the time to look into it,” said John Buchanan, vice president of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society, earlier this year.

“Hydrogen, when you look at it, is absolutely decades away from any type of a possible, practical fuel. And for them to say they’ve got the clean buses running around in Whistler, that comes at a cost to somewhere else in the country producing greenhouse gases to produce that hydrogen.”

The hydrogen is being supplied to Whistler by Quebec company Air Liquide, under a six year, $20 million contract. It will be transported across the country in liquid-form by truck.

Also, to accommodate the buses when they arrive in Whistler, B.C. Transit began constructing a new transit hub in September near Nesters. The location has stirred up controversy within the community, since the area is environmentally sensitive.

Beyond the fuel cell buses, other new buses from B.C. Transit are also bolstering Whistler’s aging fleet.

Over the past month, 10 clean-diesel buses have rolled into Whistler, and eight more are currently on their way from Montreal. Three other buses are also coming for the Squamish-Whistler Commuter service.

The new buses will be in Whistler until after the 2010 Winter Games, Morton said in a release.

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