Fuel Cells Could Power Buses

KNOXVILLE – The federal government recently cancelled a program created during the Clinton administration, which called for improving the quality of vehicle emissions.

The White House has instead begun paying for more research into fuel cells, which use hydrogen and oxygen to create pollution-free electricity.

University of Tennessee mechanical engineering professor Jeff Hodgson says the public is likely to see fuel cells powering public transportation, before it powers private vehicles.

“When you think about the investment and the fuel savings, the most attractive application for a lot of these technologies is in intra-city operations of vehicles that do a lot of stopping and starting, like buses and delivery trucks,” Hodgson said.

Knoxville Area Transit general manager Mark Hairr says KAT recently began testing alternative-fuel buses in several areas of downtown, including the UT campus.

“We think this could be a potential for transit service in the university area and downtown,” Hairr said. “The technologies we’re evaluating are primarily electric and hybrid-electric.”

Hairr says some of the hybrid-electric vehicles may have enough range and hill-climbing ability to compare favorably with standard diesel engines.

A demonstration of a hybrid-electric bus was recently held in downtown Knoxville, with the help of UT’s Energy Environment and Resources Center.

EERC executive director Jack Barkenbus says the UT campus is an ideal place to test next-generation mass transit.

“We’re looking at all ways of making mass transit more accessible for students,” Barkenbus said. “Obviously, we’ve got a problem with too many passenger vehicles on campus, so the more this kind of technology can work, the more convenient campus will be to everyone.”

Hairr says cities such as Dallas, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona have successfully integrated alternative-fuel vehicles into their public transportation fleets.