University President Michael Drake chats with second-year stuent Brent Wallenhorst while riding the new hydrogen fuel cell powered CABS bus on March 24. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

University President Michael Drake took a ride in a hydrogen fuel cell-powered bus Friday to explain how the bus, which will be entering the CABS fleet for a year, works to students and fellow riders.

The bus, which sports a bright blue exterior, is part of a Stark Area Regional Transit Authority’s line of fuel-cell buses. This was the first trip around campus for the bus and Drake, along with a few students, researchers and the SARTA CEO, were among the first passengers.

“It’s a hybrid and it uses hydrogen as its main energy source to charge its batteries. It produces zero emissions, a few drops of water,” Drake said. “But it’s really the way of the future for highly efficient, cost effective and pollutant-free transportation.”

Kirt Conrad, CEO of SARTA, said most people think that a fuel-cell vehicle means that the machine is running off of hydrogen. This is not actually the case. Rather, hydrogen is being created in the fuel cell itself and powers the batteries and the engines.

“This is a hybrid also, so anytime it decelerates, it charges the batteries. Conrad said. “One of the nice things about this vehicle … (is) this gets almost 60 percent more miles per gallon than (compressed natural gas).”  

While discussing the hydrogen fuel cell and riding around campus, the bus stopped at a normal bus stop where Brent Wallenhorst, a second-year in computer and information science, hopped aboard the bus.

“It’s a normal bus on a normal route, and we’re going to have it here with us for a year, and so on our way over we stopped at a regular bus stop and an unsuspecting student got on the bus,” Drake said.

Little did Wallenhorst know, he was about to learn about hydrogen fuel cells from the university president.

“A few years ago, as a tester, I had a month to drive a hydrogen fuel cell car on three separate occasions, and I really got quite attached to the cars. When I had them I hated giving them back. What I liked about them is, first, it’s quiet and easy to drive, and so there’s not the noise,” Drake said. “Also the concept that you’re actually contributing nothing to emissions, that you’re driving a zero-emission vehicle.”

More broadly, the hydrogen fuel cell bus is part of the university’s sustainability goals, said Kate Bartter, director of the Office of Energy and Environment.

“We have a lot of operational sustainability goals,” she said. “This university uses a lot of energy, we use a a lot of water, we serve a lot of foods, so we have a series of goals. We want to work toward carbon neutrality so we’re not negatively contributing to climate change. We want to reduce energy use in our buildings.”

Drake said the bus is essential to meeting those goals.

“We’re aiming to reduce our carbon footprint by 25 percent over the next seven or eight years, so it’s really important for us to do that. I think, as a nation, decreasing pollution, having clean air those things are good for everyone,” Drake said.

The final stop for the bus was the refueling station, which is located on OSU’s campus, where the fuel for the bus can be both produced and distributed.

Jim Durand, the program manager at the Center for Automotive Research, said that the bus is just the beginning for hydrogen fuel cell transportation.

“Producing hydrogen is still in its infancy, so to speak, we expect significant reductions in price.” Durand said. “Especially as we learn to produce it on site, as opposed to producing it somewhere remotely and trucking it in,”