Section: Archived News Stories

TCAT to Receive Ithaca’s First ‘Cutting-Edge’ Fuel Cell Bus

September 6th, 2013 ›




By Kerry Close

Within two years, TCAT riders may be able to make their commute on a "clean, green, cutting-edge" bus powered by fuel cells, Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit officials announced Tuesday.

The bus, which will convert hydrogen into electricity to run, will be funded by a $13.6-million federal grant promoting energy-effective transportation around the country, according to a TCAT press release. It will be the first of its kind in the City of Ithaca, and officials expect that the bus will cost $1.2 million.

The fuel cell bus is expected to join the TCAT fleet in late 2014 or early 2015, according to Paul Mutolo '94, director of external partnerships for Cornell's Energy Materials Center, which was involved in writing the grant for the bus with TCAT.

TCAT will lease the bus at no cost for two years, after which it may be able to gain ownership of the bus, also at no cost, according to the press release. However, TCAT is responsible for the bus' maintenance and operation costs.

TCAT's fuel cell bus will provide a chance to demonstrate the benefits of fuel cell technology, which include zero tailpipe emissions, according to Mutolo.

"This is a very unique opportunity," Mutolo said. "The number of hydrogen fuel cell buses worldwide is less than 100. ... This will give us a chance to showcase the best route toward carbon-free transportation."

The plans for the bus date back to June 2012, when Mutolo brought together TCAT and British defense contractor BAE Systems to propose the idea of the organizations working together on the grant proposal.

"Initially, TCAT and BAE Systems weren't aware of each other. The first steps were introducing them to each other and the opportunities that working together on fuel cell transport could bring," Mutolo said. "Beyond that, it was pretty easy."

The hydrogen fuel cell bus is not TCAT's first foray into sustainable transportation. The agency already has hybrid and diesel buses that adhere to lower emission standards and has tried using compressed natural gas as its fuel source, according to a press release.

"It is only fitting that we take the next step and work with a bus with zero emissions," TCAT Service Development Manager Doug Swarts said in the press release.

Mutolo praised TCAT's willingness to make its buses more environmentally friendly.

"TCAT is a very innovative transit company ... that has always been thinking about alternative fuels and technologies," Mutolo said.

Mutolo said the development of the fuel cell bus will allow Ithaca to stay ahead of the curve on a national tendency toward energy-efficient transportation.

"I think this is the beginning of a trend," he said.

Mutolo is also the co-founder of the Standard Hydrogen Corporation, which will serve as the bus' hydrogen supplier for the next two years. The Standard Hydrogen Corporation plans to open the Southern Tier region's first hydrogen fueling station, which will be open to the public, around the same time as the launch of the bus, Mutolo said.

The fueling station will allow people in the Ithaca area to purchase fuel cell electric cars, which Mutolo said are expected to be marketed in the United States by late 2015.

"Without a hydrogen fueling station, it wouldn't be possible to use those cars here," Mutolo said. "The hope is that we'll be seeing more of this technology, both in buses and automobiles."

Kerry Close is a senior news writer for The Cornell Daily Sun. She can be reached at and