– Trial ended in March 2014 – Final NREL performance report available here – 

Introduction

Whistler is a mountain resort community located 120 kilometres north of Vancouver, in the Province of British Columbia, Canada. The Whistler Blackcomb ski area is a world-renowned ski resort and has the largest skiable area in North America, with an annual snowfall of 12 metres. It was the Host Mountain Resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. In 2008, the Province of British Columbia introduced regulations requiring all public sector organizations to be carbon neutral.

BC Transit

BC Transit (BCT) is the Provincial Crown Agency charged with coordinating the delivery of public transportation throughout British Columbia (outside the Metro Vancouver regional). Every year BCT carries about 51 million passengers with a fleet of over 1000 buses. BCT is a leader in testing and implementing new lower-carbon vehicles and technologies. BCT fleet includes seven hybrid electric buses, including the first hybrid double-deck bus in North America, a fleet of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses. BCT promotes intermodality, connecting the bus network with other transport modes, allowing bicycles on board with no extra charge. In addition, most buses are equipped with bike racks. More information on BCT sustainability actions here.

In addition to CHIC, BCT has been involved in fuel cell buses demonstration for more than a decade: BCT was a partner in the HyFLEET:CUTE (2006-2010) and the CUTE projects (2000-2006). More information on BCT sustainability actions here.

Operation of fuel cell buses in Whistler

The 20 fuel cell buses were operated between January 2010 and March 2014. During the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the buses helped to provide BC Transit’s enhanced Games Time transit service in Whistler. After the Games, the buses were integrated into the Whistler Transit system, representing 87% of the Whistler fleet and operating up to 22 hours/day.The buses offered a range between 366 and 467 km (seasonal range). A new bus depot was built with six maintenance bays.

Hydrogen refuelling station characteristics

The Whistler hydrogen refueling station was located at the new bus depot, built by Air Liquide Canada in 2009. The station had a daily hydrogen fuelling capacity of 1000kg. Liquid hydrogen generated from hydro-electric power was trucked in from Quebec and stored in large tanks at the Whistler bus depot. During the refuelling process the liquid hydrogen was vaporized and delivered to the buses in gaseous form for on board storage at 350 bar.

Results of the trial: final report

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) collaborated with BC Transit for the California Air Resources Board to release two reports on the performance of the buses in February 2014 (first evaluation report) and September 2014 (second evaluation report).

From BC Transit’s perspective, there have been many achievements for the demonstration, including the following:

  • The project was delivered on-time and on-budget
  • The buses accumulated more than 4 million kilometers in revenue service over the 4-year demonstration and more than 201,000 fuel cell hours, operating up to 22 hours a day in temperatures ranging from -20°C to 34.7°C
  • By operating fuel cell buses, the agency has avoided emitting more than 5,835 tonnes of CO2 compared to operating diesel buses
  • The fuel cell buses formed the backbone of the fleet—20 of 23 buses or 26 during peak season
  • The FCEBs were incorporated into the fleet and were fully supported by Whistler Transit staff
  • The hydrogen station operated reliably with very few issues, none of which resulted in downtime for the buses
  • The station dispensed more than 591,594 kilograms of fuel over 23,671 fills without a safety incident
  • The fuel cell buses were accepted by the drivers, maintenance staff, passengers, and the local community.

The challenges and lessons learned from the demonstration included bus-related problems as well as programmatic issues:

  • Tight delivery schedule – the buses had to be delivered on time for the Olympic Games
  • Integrator bankruptcy – led to more responsibility and effort for each of the other partners
  • Evolution of technology and components leading to parts obsolescence and difficulty in finding replacement parts
  • Air compressor/motor/controller — the air supply system for the fuel cell proved to be one of the biggest technical issues on the buses
  • Bus suspension—The buses had issues with the suspension because of the weight and the difficult duty cycle

BC Transit summarizes its key lessons learned for the project as follows:

  1. Manage expectations for the technology and plan for needed resources. Based on early input from other demonstrations, BC Transit set high expectations for performance that the buses didn’t meet at the beginning of the project
  2. Allow ample time for further development if planning an introduction around a major event where time deadlines cannot be moved
  3. Establish a project team with all stakeholders and develop clear objectives and milestones
  4. Include on-site representatives from the major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the project at least for the early portion of the demonstration
  5. Make a significant commitment and understand what you are trying to achieve with demonstrating a new technology

Financing sources

The total budget of the demonstration project is $89.5 million, covering capital and associated operating costs to March 2014. The funding partners are:

  • Government of Canada ($45 million through the 2006 Public Transit Capital Trust Fund)
  • Province of British Columbia ($11 million)
  • BCT and Resort Municipality of Whistler ($32.5 million)*
  • Canadian Hydrogen Fuel Cell Association ($1 million)

*The funding from BCT and the Resort Municipality of Whistler reflects its contributions for 20 diesel vehicles and the estimated operating costs associated, over the five-year period. These represent incumbent operating costs including fuel, maintenance and drivers’ wages and benefits.

Source: City of Whistler, BCT, BCT hydrogen fuel cell bus page, NREL report

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