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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘Ballard

BC Transit offers Hydrogen Buses for sale

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BC Transit 1000

I saw this story on the CBC News last night so that’s where I am linking to. It gets picked up by the paywalled press too, of course, but what I think is interesting about this version is the commentary from Eric Denhoff President and CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association..

While these buses may have saved some greenhouse gas emissions, the admission that the hydrogen had to be trucked from Quebec offsets that a bit. Hydrogen is of course freely available everywhere: extracting it, packing and shipping it is, of course the expensive bit, and itself consumes lots of energy. And the trucks which drove back and forth across the continent were diesel powered. There is also a plant in North Van which vents hydrogen it produces as a byproduct which is not clean enough for the finicky fuel cells.

What annoys me about the web version of this story is that is misses the correct attribution of responsibility. The TV news had quite a bit about the decision by Gordon Campbell to buy these buses and have them run in Whistler during the Olympics. It also mentioned the complete failure of the “hydrogen highway” that he announced with Arnold Schwarzenegger that never materialized.

The Province always has money for these ribbon cutting, PR fluff type projects. Obviously just not enough money for Whistler’s transit system to keep running the things. There is never enough money to run transit in BC but every so often they go all loopy and buy a bunch of white elephants. Several different iterations of CNG buses wished on to Vancouver before they got one that actually worked reliably. Even though the emissions from diesel buses fitted with mandatory control equipment now equal the tailpipe performance of CNG. Not that there is much wrong with air quality in Vancouver.

It is also worth noting that the CBC web version mentions that there is a Plan B if BC Transit can’t find a buyer, which I would think is the most likely outcome.

NOTE This post has been corrected after correspondence from Eric Denhoff (April 28, 2015)

Hydrogen Dream Not Adding Up

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BC’s new buses aren’t ‘zero-emission solution’ as claimed.

By Andrew MacLeod Published: December 14, 2007

Hydrogen buses are devilishly expensive. Any new technology is going to cost a lot because the first vehicles adapted to use have a lot of components that are not mass produced. As anyone who has bought an armchair will testify, you get a much better price if you buy one from IKEA than if you get one custom made. And the only thing that you care about is, is it comfortable?

If you have to bring the hydrogen from Quebec by diesel trucks (why they can’t put it on a train is not explained) it no longer is the best bet in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions either

B.C. Transit did what are called “well-to-wheel” calculations, [B.C. Transit’s manager for the fuel cell project, Bruce] Rothwell says, looking at the total greenhouse gas emissions involved in getting either hydrogen buses or standard diesel buses on the road. The hydrogen buses do better.

To power a diesel bus, he says, generates the equivalent of 2,000 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Using hydrogen, he says, even when it is shipped across the continent, emits 800 grams per kilometre. About 65 per cent of those emissions are from transporting the fuel.

“It’s a 60 per cent reduction from diesel,” he says.

That may be, says the David Suzuki Foundation’s climate change specialist, Ian Bruce, but there are better options. Hybrid diesel-electric buses for instance, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 per cent, according to Translink’s website, and they are much cheaper.

The Tyee appears to think that it may be something to do with Campbell wanting to demonstrate confidence in Ballard – the BC company that has been developing fuel cells but has recently backed out of the automotive market.

That may be true, but I think a more simple explanation is pure pig headedness. Campbell has bought into ghg reduction in a big way but really does not seem to capable of understanding simple arithmetic. You cannot reduce ghg if you insist on widening freeways – or bringing hydrogen here from Quebec. You can easily reduce ghg emissions and do it while saving money. Many techniques will pay for themselves really quickly now that oil is close to $100 a barrel. All you have to do is dig out all the old reports commissioned by previous governments. After all, that is what Stephen Harper is doing.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Posted in greenhouse gas reduction, transit

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Hydrogen highway hits dead end

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National Post

Ballard’s talks with potential buyers is admission that dream of hydrogen fuel car is dead

Ballard has raised – and spent – huge amounts of money, but it now looks ready to admit that the dream of a car that runs on a fuel cell may not be realised.

“The problem was always, can you make hydrogen fuel at a price point that makes any sense to anybody. And the answer to that to date has been no”

Which when you think that in the time Ballard has been trying to crack this nut, the price of oil has risen from around $20 to nudging $100 is really quite remarkable. A lot of technologies – including extracting motor fuel from oil sands – looked very dubious when oil was cheap but are now very popular investments. Ballard seemed to me to be too good to be true when I first heard of it, and the technology people kept comparing the way fuel cell prices would drop to the way that computers have got cheaper. But Research Capital analyst Jon Hykawy draws attention to the “fuel” itself. Since I am not a scientist, nor an engineer, I must admit that I felt a bit out of my depth, but I never really understood why hydrogen was such a draw. It seemed to be to be ridiculously difficult to store and move the stuff, and I just did not see how you could overcome some of the basic physics. Not only that but here in Vancouver hydrogen was being vented as a waste product – a side effect from some other chemical process – and no-one seemed in the slightest bit interested in why it could not be captured economically.

In the end it always comes down to basic economics – and hydrogen is not actually a source of energy, merely a rather inefficient way of moving it about. Yes it seemed to make sense to NASA to use it as rocket fuel, but then they developed a ball point pen to work in space when the Russians just used pencils. Just because you can persuade a bunch of congressmen to give you a huge budget doesn’t mean it is necessarily a very good idea. Or, in the case of Ballard, a lot of people who have bought shares in an enterprise that does not seem likely now to be the next Big Thing.

The FP’s headline of course does not refer to Arnie and Gordon’s ridiculous PR exercise. I expect that will stagger along for a bit longer until someone quietly puts it out of its misery, and it will join methanol and propane as transportation fuels that promised much but delivered little. And mostly at the taxpayers’ expense.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 6, 2007 at 9:46 pm