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Dozens of "green" Canadian technologies will be showcased at the 2010 Olympics, including a bus fleet that runs on fuel cells instead of diesel.
Only the best make it to the Olympics. And at next year's Games, that applies not only to the athletes, but also to dozens of green technologies that were chosen to be showcased at what will be the most sustainable games to date.
The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will profile dozens of ?made in Canada? clean energy solutions, including a fleet of 20 fuel cell electric buses that will run as part of Whistler, British Columbia's public transit fleet. The buses emit no greenhouse gases, and are more energy efficient than diesel buses with internal combustion engines.
Canada's demonstration represents the largest ever fleet of fuel cell buses to operate in a single location. ?Internationally, we are recognized as the leaders here,? says Joanna Morton, media relations officer for BC Transit, which owns and operates the buses.
Built by New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the buses are packed with Canadian technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells from Ballard in Burnaby, B.C. and hydrogen storage from Dynetek Industries of Calgary, Alberta. Hydrogen fuel will be supplied by Air Liquide Canada of Montréal, Quebec.
?Internationally, we are recognized as the leaders here.?
Joanna Morton, BC Transit
New and improved
The buses are outfitted with a hybrid drive train, which means that power can flow to the wheels either from the fuel cell directly or from a battery buffer. The fuel cell provides the main source of power, while the battery supplies extra kick during acceleration.
?That allows you to reduce the size of the fuel cell,? says Morton. ?It also allows the fuel cell to operate more in its sweet spot — it doesn't have so many energy demands in a short period of time.?
The 20 buses will run as part of Whistler's municipal fleet, which normally numbers around 30 but will grow to 135 during the Games. Morton says that apart from a ?fuel cell powered? sign on the side of the bus, the only difference passengers may notice is a smoother, quieter ride. ?With electric drive, you have immediate torque pulling away from stops and accelerating, so the response is instantaneous,? she says.
The fuel cell buses were a perfect match for the sustainability theme of the 2010 Olympics. That theme is built into every aspect of the Games, from green building standards in the Olympic villages to biodegradable soaps at competition venues.
?It makes it a lot more real when you can ride a bus that's fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells.?
Anne Duffy, VANOC
One of the sustainability goals of the Games is to take advantage of the presence of thousands of visitors and worldwide media to raise awareness about clean energy solutions. That includes showcasing the fuel cell buses, which will be among many sustainable approaches to transportation at the Games.
What do these buses and a Toyota Prius have in common?
Less than you might think. While each is correctly called a ?hybrid,? the Prius ? and other hybrids on the market such as the Honda Insight ' uses both gasoline and electricity. These cars have an internal combustion engine that runs on gasoline and a separate electric motor that runs on a battery.
A vehicle like BC Transit's fuel cell bus, on the other hand, doesn't use gasoline or diesel, but has a hydrogen fuel cell and a battery. The fuel cell generates electricity to power the engine and the battery provides extra power when needed. These vehicles are 100 percent electric with zero greenhouse gas emissions.
?I think it's a very exciting idea,? says Anne Duffy, corporate sustainability officer for VANOC, the organizing committee for the Games. ?Mainly because it's a practical example that people can see. It makes it a lot more real when you can ride a bus that's fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells.?
The buses are expected to produce a total greenhouse gas savings of 62 percent over regular diesel buses. The savings are based on a comparison of the entire life cycle of hydrogen versus diesel fuel ' from creation to transportation. Just as diesel fuel is shipped for use, so hydrogen will be transported to Whistler, since local supply isn't ready to meet the demands of 20 buses in daily service. ?So even though the fuel supply isn't available in Western Canada for a fleet of this size, there are still big wins in greenhouse gas savings,? says Morton.
Not just an Olympic event
After the athletes have gone home, the buses will stay on as the backbone of the Whistler transit fleet. The goal is to evaluate fuel cell technology to ensure it can meet the long-term service demand. "It has to meet both the operating effectiveness test and the cost effectiveness test," says Morton.
The fuel cell buses were a perfect match for the sustainability theme of the 2010 Olympics.
Similar demonstrations of hybrid fuel cell buses are planned in several cities in the U.S and Europe over the coming year, but the BC Transit fleet represents the first such buses to be placed in regular service. In 2014, BC Transit will assess the performance of the buses and decide whether to continue with fuel cell technology opportunities. ?We're encouraged with what we've seen so far,? says Morton.
Weathering a Canadian winter
During the Olympics at Whistler, the fuel cell buses will operate for up to 22 hours per day in cold winter conditions. To ensure a problem-free ride, a prototype bus was put through cold temperature tests at the NRC Centre for Surface Transportation Technology (NRC-CSTT) in Ottawa.
NRC subjected the bus to -20° C temperatures and tested the performance of the fuel cell and other components such as heating, ventilation and defrosting. ?We need to have confidence that the bus is operable in a cold climate, and we need to understand how the battery and the fuel cell electric drive perform when it's -20° C,? says Morton. It was important that the fuel cell technology provide not only enough power for the bus to operate smoothly, but also enough heat, ?so that our passengers can stay safe and warm,? she adds.
The topography of bus routes in Whistler was simulated at Environment Canada to find out how cold temperatures would affect the battery and fuel cell at various points on the route. The NRC and Environment Canada tests made it possible to optimize the bus for winter conditions. They also provided useful operating details, such as how much time it would take to defrost the windshield at the start of a driver's shift, and how often the battery needs recharging in cold weather.
The Hydrogen Highway
The deployment of fuel cell buses in Whistler is just one of many activities undertaken by the Hydrogen Highway ' an umbrella network for industry, government and other partners in Canada's fuel cell sector. Members of the Hydrogen Highway work together to overcome barriers and present real-world demonstrations of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies such as buses, cars, forklifts and power backup systems.
As a member of the Hydrogen Highway, the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI) in Vancouver acts as a hub of state-of-the-art equipment and research expertise. ?NRC can look collectively at technical challenges that are affecting almost everybody,? says John Tak, President of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, which leads the Hydrogen Highway. ?They can help to bring technical innovation and solutions to some of the issues that the cluster members are facing.?
One of those issues is the design of the proton exchange membrane ? the central component of a fuel cell. ?Creating a membrane that has the durability and efficiency required ' that's one of the challenges,? says Tak. Through its research programs and relationships with strong technology partners such as China, NRC is helping to increase reliability and reduce the cost of fuel cell technology.
NRC also provides access to development and test equipment that smaller companies may not be able to buy themselves, but can use by working collectively with NRC. ?You can only do this in partnership,? says Tak.
NRC-IFCI is home to the Vancouver Fuel Cell Vehicle Program and the Pacific Sprit Fuelling Station ? one of the key nodes of the Hydrogen Highway. The Hydrogen Highway was one of the first organizations to receive a ?Sustainability Star? from the organizing committee for the Olympics ' an award that recognizes Games-related innovations that are environmental, economic and social in nature.