Update: Hydrogen-fueled fleet ready for the road

Barbara Hale
June 19, 2006

The only hydrogen fueling station currently located in Pennsylvania is on Penn State's University Park campus where efforts are also underway to develop a mixed vehicle fleet, including two cars, a bus and vans, to demonstrate the potential of the new "gas."

Joel Anstrom, director of Penn State's Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicle Research Center (HHVRC), says, "We're evaluating multiple vehicle technologies as well as testing the hydrogen fueling infrastructure in a real world environment, under real world loads."

By the end of the summer, Anstrom and his partners expect to have a transit bus and a University maintenance van operating on a hydrogen/natural gas blend along with a fuel cell car operating on pure hydrogen. Residents will be able to ride the bus, #85 on the Loop and Link routes, and observe the van and car which will all be marked for identification.

Development and deployment of the hydrogen vehicle fleet involves the collaboration of Penn State's Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, of which the Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicle Research Center is a part, the University's Office of Physical Plant, the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA) and Collier Technologies of Reno, Nevada. Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., developed the hydrogen fueling station which produces hydrogen by steam reforming of natural gas and fills the need for a practical and cost effective hydrogen fueling infrastructure to support early deployment of hydrogen vehicles.

Anstrom points out that the buses operated by CATA are already powered by natural gas, which is a mixture of gases that includes about two percent hydrogen. Collier Technologies has outfitted Bus #85 with an engine that can burn mixtures with up to 50 percent hydrogen. While natural gas is already clean burning, they expect Bus #85 to offer a significantly improved tailpipe emissions profile. Penn State engineers will perform emissions testing on the bus burning a 30 percent hydrogen/natural gas mixture, which they expect to meet the more stringent 2007 heavy-duty engine emission levels without any tailpipe after treatment.

Vans from the Office of Physical Plant will also be modified by Collier Technologies to run on the same hydrogen/natural gas mixture. While one van is complete and scheduled to be in service at summer's end, Anstrom expects a total of six to seven hydrogen/natural gas-burning vans to eventually join the fleet.

The Air Products hydrogen fueling station currently offers the option of 30 percent hydrogen/natural gas mixtures or pure hydrogen. HHVRC researchers have also fitted an electric car, donated by General Motors, with a commercially-available hydrogen proton exchange membrane fuel cell that will enable it to run on pure hydrogen. Called the HyLion, the car will demonstrate the fueling process, features, and performance of initial fuel cell vehicles, Anstrom notes.

In addition, HHVC researchers and Collier Technologies are working to adapt the gasoline engine in a hybrid electric vehicle to run on pure hydrogen.

In addition to fueling the fleet, the hydrogen station, which produces hydrogen on site from natural gas, will be used by other Penn State researchers who need hydrogen. These researchers could include chemists, biochemists and molecular biologists as well as engineers studying hydrogen production, storage, conversion and standards issues.

By the end of summer, Anstrom expects the hydrogen fueling station demand to be about 40 kg of hydrogen per day to supply the bus, vans and car, as well as researchers. The bus, for example, will require about 26 kg of hydrogen per fill and will be able to roll all day from 4 a.m. to midnight, about 300 miles, on one fill up. When the additional vans are added to the fleet, production can be ramped up to 100 kg per day.

Anstrom adds, "When used as a fuel, hydrogen produces no harmful emissions, just water. This station can produce hydrogen from domestic or biomass-derived natural gas. We expect that once a demand for hydrogen as a vehicle fuel is created, renewable sources, such as biomass fermentation, even wastewater, will be tapped to produce hydrogen directly."

The project is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Community and Economic Development.

Joel Anstrom, Ph.D., is director of Penn State's Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicle Research Center at the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute. He can be reached at

Last Updated June 19, 2006