First in Michigan!

May 9, 2005

A partnership between Kettering and the Flint Mass Transit Authority will place the state's first fuel cell bus on streets in Flint, Mich.

Tour the Kettering University Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration during an open house and reception Wednesday, June 15, from 2:30-5 p.m. Fuel cell vehicles from General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, the U.S. Army and Hydrogenics will be on display. A Hydrogen-on-Demand (HOD) system for portable fuel cell power applications from Millennium Cell will also be on display. Delphi Corporation will provide a solid oxide fuel cell stack display. 

Partnership will put fuel cell bus on Flint streets

Kettering University will help bring the first fuel cell-powered bus to Michigan, thanks to a partnership with the Mass Transit Authority (MTA) in Flint, Mich.

Through this partnership, MTA will fund the cost of a 15-passenger hybrid electric van, a 40-foot hybrid electric fuel cell passenger bus and fund the cost of a hydrogen refueling station near Kettering's campus to support the hybrid vehicles. MTA also will commit to $50,000 a year for three years supporting Kettering's Hybrid Energy Systems (HES) research program and will provide access to MTA hybrid vehicles which will support Kettering's hybrid vehicles and fuel cell engineering curriculum.

Kettering will work with MTA to structure training programs to educate their employees and the general public on hybrid vehicle technology, fuel cells and fuel cell bus maintenance, and hydrogen safety. These programs will be coordinated with on-going education and training efforts at the NextEnergy Center, Mott Community College, Baker College, and Lansing Community College.

"This partnership is important for Flint, providing national exposure for tryingto reduce environmental emissions and to educate the public on fuel cell poweredmass transportation," said K. Joel Berry, professor andhead of Kettering's Mechanical Engineering Department and Center Director. "The University will benefit because it will provide Kettering's Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration with opportunities to record real data on operating fuel cell vehicles in the field."

Berry said when the first fuel cell bus rolls onto local streets, Flint will join an elite list of communities operating environmentally friendly buses. "When the fuel cell refueling station is completed, Flint's name will be on an even shorter list," he said. "This will provide an opportunity to study the performance of fuel cell buses in a northern climate, which is a major interest to the federal Department of Transportation." Typically, fuel cell buses can be found in Southern California, the East Coast or Europe. A fuel cell converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, which produces electricity to power a vehicle.

"It's an interesting project," Berry said. "We'll evaluate how humidity, temperature and air quality impact the efficiency of a fuel cell bus. It will give Kettering an opportunity to publish research papers on fuel cell buses and hybrid vehicle efficiencies and performance in a northern climate." It will also provide Kettering yet another chance to highlight the success of its Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration.

"The $50,000 a year will allow us to develop an off-road hybrid energy systems vehicle with multiple fuel cells combined with high-energy batteries, ultra capacitors and sophisticated control technology to manage the flow and distribution of energy and power. The hybrid energy systems vehicle represents a research lab where we can study the integration of fuel cells into hybrid electric vehicles ... think of it as a rolling research platform,a project to attract students and faculty members from differentdepartments, and as a vehicle for hands-on education and training.

"One success will lead to a bigger success," Berry noted. "Ultimately, our goal is to create a fuel cell industry in Flint. A fuel cell bus for public transportation and a hybrid energy systems research program will help make that vision a success."

Berry said the first step is for Kettering experts to work with MTA officials to develop the physical specifications for proposals that will be issued to different fuel cell engine suppliers. The actual integration into a fuel cell bus will be done by a third party business. The price tag for a single fuel cell-powered, 40-foot passenger bus typically costs between $1 and $2 million.

"I see this 'jumpstarting' a fuel cell technician program," Berry said. "Kettering experts will help outline what the technician program might look like at Mott Community College, Baker College or even Lansing Community College. A fuel cell technician program would be of great interest to NextEnergy or the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)," he added.

Ahmad Pourmovahed, professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Etim Ubong, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, recently provided technical assistance to MTA's board of directors by answering questions as it deliberated at its April board meeting.

"Our job," Pourmovahed said, "is to sort through the technology that exists today and help MTA find the best bus for their application. Also the best fueling station," he said. "Actually, I think our main goal is to put Flint on the map for fuel cell buses!"

Kettering's experts will help with the procurement of items and participate in the expanding conversation on fuel cell opportunities, Pourmovahed explained. "I can see Kettering training MTA personnel in safety issues, hydrogen safety, and routinemaintenance. I also think one ofour important jobs will be to educate the public. We'll probably have to start at thehigh school level.

"This is a great opportunity to have Kettering recognized as a Center of Excellence for Fuel Cells. Just to have the university as an active participant and at the leading edge is a great advantage for our University," Pourmovahed added.

The MTA Board of Directors approved the partnership with Kettering at its meeting April 21. The first fuel cell powered bus transporting Flint passengers could happen as early as September 2006.

Click on this link for more on Kettering's Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration.

Portions of this story are from an article in the Flint Journal April 22, 2005, written by Marjory Raymer.

Written by Patricia Mroczek
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