What is a fuel cell electric bus (FCEB)?
A fuel cell electric bus is an electric bus that possesses both a hydrogen fuel cell and batteries/capacitors to optimize performance. The fuel cell supplies the energy required for the vehicle operation, while the batteries or capacitors serve to provide peak power to the motors to meet rapid acceleration and gradients.
The fuel cell power module onboard the bus generates electric energy through an electro-chemical reaction which leaves behind only water and heat as by-products, and no local emissions. The electric energy is used to provide direct electric traction and keep the batteries charged. The by-product heat is stored on the brake resistors and is used to maintain heating passenger comfort and considerably increase energy efficiency. The batteries also provide storage for regenerated braking energy. All the energy required for the bus to operate is provided by hydrogen stored on board.
FCEBs can be refueled in less than 10 minutes at hydrogen fueling stations. Transit agencies can install hydrogen refueling infrastructure with a similar footprint to CNG refueling or work with leading sector companies to provide turnkey hydrogen infrastructure solutions.
FCEBs have zero tailpipe emissions and produce no nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides or particulate matter. As a result, FCEBs are an attractive solution for communities working to mitigate the health-related impacts of air pollution.
FCEBs offer conventional full vehicle performance in terms of highway speed, gradeability, fueling times and range for all types of transit routes. Fuel economy (which is already 1.7 to 1.9 times higher than conventional buses) is expected to increase with efficiency improvements in the coming years.
Since the first fuel cell electric buses began operation in Beijing in 2006, transit agencies in countries around the world have adopted zero-emission FCEBs to decarbonize their fleets.
More than 2,000 FCEBs are currently operating in service in China, Japan, Germany, United States, United Kingdom and other locations with over 15 years on the road and millions of kilometers in passenger service in a range of hot and cold climates.
In North America, California continues to lead the way in FCEB deployment, with agencies such as AC Transit, SunLine Transit, and Orange County Transit operating FCEBs in their regular service routes and committing to the deployment of additional FCEBs and fueling infrastructure.
The case for FCEB adoption in Canadian transit fleets
To transition towards net-zero carbon neutrality by 2050, Canadian cities must adopt zero-emission vehicles such as FCEBs in their urban transit fleets. For transit agencies, FCEBs are a proven zero-emission solution that offer the same performance as conventional diesel buses and are well-suited for long routes and colder weather with higher power requirements that Canadian transit agencies service. Because FCEBs offer a one-to-one replacement ratio, transit agencies would not be required to purchase more vehicles to provide the same level of service as conventional buses. This benefits Canadian transit agencies who find themselves grappling to fit ZEV fleets into constrained depots.
Similar to diesel and CNG buses, FCEBs can be refueled quickly at any bus fueling station or depot designed with the addition of delivered hydrogen or onsite hydrogen production. International deployments have illustrated that FCEBs can be fueled safely and efficiently in transit bus depots, and a range of infrastructure solutions are available to deliver or produce, store and dispense hydrogen at transit bus depots. Hence, Canadian transit agencies would not be required to invest in extensive charging infrastructure and grid strengthening.
With the launch of the Hydrogen Strategy for Canada in December 2020, the Canadian government is committed to supporting the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies to achieve net-zero carbon neutrality by 2050 while creating jobs and investment. In March 2021, Infrastructure Canada announced $2.7 billion in funding to support municipalities and school boards in purchasing 5,000 ZEBs including FCEBs over the next five years.
Canada is also home to a number of leading companies in the global FCEB value chain. This includes New Flyer Industries, Ballard Power Systems, Loop Energy, Dana, Cummins, and others.