Sunline Transit Agency leaders shared the difficulties the company has experienced with its hydrogen fueling station, which was built by Nel Hydrogen in 2019.
The comments were made by SunLine Transit Agency Chair, Lisa Middleton, and CEO/General Manager, Mona Babauta, as they delivered opening remarks at the California Association for Coordinated Transportation’s (CALACT) statewide conference in Indian Wells on Wednesday.
“Our electrolyzer hydrogen station, which is the largest system in a transit operating environment in the United States, has been unstable for at least a year now as a fueling solution,” said Babauta. “I’m sharing this because we showed up to this conference to learn from each other – both good and bad – passing along lessons learned by all of us through experience and trial and error.”
According to the company, over the past 3 months, SunLine’s hydrogen fueling station has failed to dispense hydrogen to meet its operating needs. This has resulted in the agency not being able to fuel approximately 35% of its fleet that is composed of hydrogen fuel cell buses and dropping approximately 20% of its daily service.
“We are very dependent on a reliable hydrogen fueling station to provide reliable service for our customers, and it has stopped dispensing fuel for meeting our daily operating needs,” Babauta stated. “On our worst days, we were impacting the lives of over 1,000 customers who had to wait longer than usual for a bus to arrive.”
Nel Hydrogen will conduct a site acceptance test with SunLine on Nov. 12.
"Since the station was constructed, Nel has failed to prove the reliability of their fueling facility and SunLine has not accepted it as a result. The hope is to restore the station to full operational capacity as soon as possible in partnership with Nel Hydrogen – which currently owns, operates and maintains the station for SunLine," reads a news release by Sunline.
Babauta noted that service has improved recently with help from a number of industry partners, including New Flyer, the Center for Transportation and the Environment, Ballard, BusStuff, and AC Transit, especially.
“They all helped us brainstorm and flesh out solutions for fueling our fuel cell buses using other technology and industry protocols,” explained Babauta. “As all transit agencies in California are needing to respond to the State’s Innovative Clean Transit rule and start transitioning their fleets to zero emission by 2040, they should be able to do this with eyes wide open.”
Chair Middleton added, “Problems that are identified are ones that can be fixed.”
While SunLine awaits a resolution to the operational halt of Nel’s hydrogen station, the agency will start receiving a total of 8 leased CNG buses tomorrow, Nov 3, from Complete Coach Works in Riverside County to help restore service that has been affected by the hydrogen fueling challenges.
In addition, SunLine has started constructing a new liquid hydrogen station to build resilience into its hydrogen program. Completion of the station is expected by late spring/early summer of 2024.
“We are committed to hydrogen as a long-term source of fuel for our heavy-duty bus fleet, in order to meet the State’s mandate to transition all bus fleets to zero emission by 2040,” said Babauta.