NICE AMERICA H2 refueling system exceeds expectations, game changing mobile technology will propel hydrogen fuel cells to the forefront of zero emissi
September 14, 2021
Saying that Kirt Conrad, CEO of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA), believes hydrogen fuel cells (HFC) are the future of transportation is a gross understatement. The leader of the mid-size, midwestern transit agency has so much faith in the technology that he is willing to lend other systems one of his million dollar-plus buses so they can kick the tires, look under the hood, and learn what he knows: HFC powered vehicles leave battery electrics in the dust.
But no matter how ardently Conrad preached or how impressed or excited people became when they drove the bright blue bus and reviewed the mounds of performance data SARTA has accumulated while operating the vehicles in daily revenue service, transit officials from Spokane, Washington to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Toronto, Canada all asked the same conversation-stopping question: “How are we going to fuel the darn things if we decide to buy a couple so we can run them and decide if they are the best fit for our agency?”
It was perhaps the only question about HFCs that Conrad, who is recognized as a leading expert in the design and operation of the vehicles, could not answer. He also knew that fueling issues would continue to be the primary barrier blocking the widespread adoption of H2 as an alternative fuel until he did have a response
“Battery electrics are winning the transportation electrification competition by default,” Mr. Conrad said. “Transit systems exploring zero-emission options naturally gravitate toward battery electrics because the technology is simple and easy to understand,” he continued. “A manufacturer sends you a bus. You plug it in, charge it, and test it for as long as you want. When the testing period ends you order a bunch of them, upgrade your electrical grid, and you’re done.
By contrast, fueling has always made conducting a long-term test of an HFC bus difficult, if not impossible.”
That is why Conrad was intrigued when he learned two years ago that NICE America Research (NICE America) a clean energy technology incubator based in California, was developing a liquid hydrogen refueling system (LHRS) that could be mounted on a trailer and moved from location to location. “I began talking to officials at NICE America and alternative fuel experts at the Center for Transportation and the Environment about the mobile unit,” Mr. Conrad said. “They claimed their new submerged pump LHRS would deliver full fills fast at a much lower cost than existing systems.”
Three months, hundreds of actual and simulated vehicle fills, and more than 3600kgs of hydrogen later, SARTA’s CEO believes NICE America has produced a fueling solution that will change the zero-emission conversation, change minds, and change the composition of transit and trucking fleets across the U.S. and Canada. “The mobile unit passed every test with flying colors, handled every challenge we threw at it with ease. In short, it works, and works incredibly well.”
During the trial, which was conducted in every imaginable weather condition, including snow, scorching heat, and driving rain, the LRHS:
- Filled five buses back-to-back in less than an hour
- Completed 52 consecutive fills of at least 25kgs in 11.5 hours
- Performed118 fills of SARTA’s 40’ and paratransit HFC vehicles
- Performed a 90kg simulated truck fill
“We now know that a single submerged pump unit can easily fill 50 to 100 H2 vehicles per day at five-minute intervals,” Mr. Conrad noted. “A transit system running battery electrics would need to invest tens of millions of dollars in charging infrastructure at their base terminal, transit centers, and other sites to even come close to matching that capability. And because it takes four to six hours to fully charge a bus and the buses travel less than 150 miles per charge, transit systems that decide to go electric will be forced to buy two or three vehicles to replace each diesel they run.”
“So, while the impression in the industry is that building a hydrogen fleet is prohibitively expensive the exact opposite is true,” he continued. “For example, LA Metro recently completed a study and found they would have to spend $280 million on infrastructure to electrify their fleet. They could go H2 for a fraction of the cost today—and those costs will continue to fall as both vehicle and fueling technology evolves. HFC buses already offer the same 300-plus mile range per fill-up as diesels, I believe we will reach the one-to-one replacement price point in the near future.”
Dr. Anthony Ku, NICE America’s Chief Technology Officer agrees. “When we began developing the submerged pump LHRS we were confident we could reduce H2 fueling costs to a level comparable to refueling diesel-powered buses,” he said. “The SARTA project demonstrates a pathway to achieve that goal.”
The combination of cost-savings and mobility means Conrad has the barrier busting solution he has been seeking for years. “NICE America’s LHRS is a game changer that will help propel HFC power to the forefront of the alternative fuel, zero-emission revolution in transportation both here in the U.S. and abroad, he said. “Now when transit professionals ask, ‘How do we fuel the darn things?’ I will answer ‘We have a system we can pull up, set up, and begin operating in less than a day. Where do you want us to park it?’”
Conrad said he will continue to collaborate and consult with NICE America as they work to bring the submerged pump LHRS to market. “We have taken a major step forward, now we mut continue the progress by making the technology widely available as both mobile units and permanent, onsite installations,” he said.
Dr. Ku agrees. “The SARTA demonstration project will enable us to develop an ecosystem of partners to support transit agencies that use HFCs to achieve their renewable energy goals. We firmly believe our LHRS will serve as the bridge to a hydrogen fuel cell-powered zero emission future in communities across the United States and the world.”
Demonstration Project Partners
ETI Corp. and the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) provided additional support for the project by facilitating collaboration and monitoring performance of the system. NICE America leveraged Bulldog Energy Providers (BEP) equipment and operation expertise to ensure that the day-to-day operation is safe, reliable, and trouble-free. Messer supplied the liquid H2 used during testing.
About NICE AMERICA RESEARCH, INC.
NICE America Research Inc. is a subsidiary of National Institute of Clean-and-low-carbon Energy (NICE), a corporate research arm of China Energy Investment Corporation. NICE America’s mission is to develop and adapt the next generation of clean energy technologies for both the US and Chinese markets to support the transition to a decarbonized future. NICE America has developed a technology platform using submerged liquid hydrogen pumps to enable rapid, low-cost refueling in fuel cell vehicle applications. www.nicenergy.com/us
About STARK AREA REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY
SARTA is an international leader in the development and deployment of zero emission technology in the transportation space. The Canton, Ohio-based transit system which owns and operates one of the largest fleets of hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses in the Western Hemisphere has received Calstart’s prestigious Blue Sky Award and numerous other honors for its commitment to innovation, sustainability, and renewable energy. To learn more about SARTA’s hydrogen fuel cell program visit https://www.sartaonline.com/hydrogen-fuel-cell
About THE CENTER FOR TRANSPORTATION AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The Center for Transportation and the Environment is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the health of our climate and communities by bringing people together to develop and commercialize clean, efficient, and sustainable transportation technologies. CTE collaborates with federal, state, and local governments, fleets, and vehicle technology manufacturers to complete our mission. Learn more at www.cte.tv.
About BULLDOG ENERGY PROVIDERS
Bulldog Energy Providers offers business consulting, mechanical/electrical design, equipment assembly, and testing of systems for the hydrogen energy space. We believe all the hydrogen technologies available to the market are going to ensure hydrogen’s long-term success.
Contacts for SARTA: Kirt Conrad, CEO, [email protected]
Contacts for NICE America: Jordan McRobie, Director – Business Development, [email protected]
Contacts for Bulldog Energy Providers: Erik Hansen, Owner, [email protected]
Contact for CTE: Chloe Durham, Communications Specialist, [email protected]