Section: Archived News Stories

Hydrogen fuel headed to Tompkins County drivers

September 16th, 2013 ›


By: Tamara Lindstrom


What could be the future of transportation is on its way to Tompkins County and as TCAT gets ready to add one of the country's first hydrogen fuel cell buses to its fleet, Tamara Lindstrom sat down with an expert to find out exactly how it works and what it could mean for area drivers.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. -- In a matter of months, a new, cleaner kind of bus will shuttle passengers around Tompkins County.

"They have a lot of power right from the acceleration. They can make it up Ithaca's hills very well, so you won't have trouble on the hills. And then the quiet ride that people get and the lack of engine sounds have been much better for drivers and rider alike," said Paul Mutolo, Director of External Partnerships for the Energy Materials Center at Cornell.

The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, or TCAT, will receive the hydrogen bus through a Federal Transit Administration program.

Mutolo has worked on the technology for more than a decade. He explains how the fuel cell will safely generate electricity from hydrogen gas right on board the bus.

"It takes that hydrogen and literally rips it apart. It pulls the electrons right out of that molecule and that's the electricity. And the byproduct you get from that is just water and a little bit of heat. So they're very, very clean," he said.

But bus drivers and their passengers won't be the only ones using the new technology. With the new bus comes a hydrogen filling station that will be open to the public.

"The plan is to have one side open to TCAT to allow then to use their buses and have that demonstration happening and then the other side to be open to the public. Because the auto manufacturers are right behind the buses," Mutolo said. "So Toyota, General Motors, Honda, a number of other manufacturers plan to have their fuel cell vehicles in showrooms by 2015, which is just a little over a year from now."

The fuel will likely cost about as much as gasoline at first, but should get cheaper as it catches on. And it will be made right at the station.

"We'd try to purchase as renewable electricity as possible to keep that hydrogen as renewable as possible, then we would make the hydrogen on site," Mutolo said. "It gets stored in tanks and be ready for delivery to the bus."

While powering transportation is the first step, Mutolo says the many uses of clean burning hydrogen are just starting to be explored.

Researchers at Cornell are already working on making hydrogen fuel cells cheaper and more efficient.