A Follow-Up Visit to Chicago Transit

by Karen Miller, Program Director, National Hydrogen Association

In December 1997, NHA staff paid a visit to the Chicago [Illinois, U.S.A.] Transit Authority (CTA), where a hydrogen bus project was being implemented [see previous stories: Winter 1998 and Autumn 1997]. The coordinated efforts of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Ballard Power Systems, and Air Products and Chemicals had successfully brought three hydrogen-powered buses for revenue service to the United States. On Friday, 6 August 1999, staff took the opportunity afforded by a Chicago Fuel Cell Conference [see related story] to pay CTA a follow-up visit.

Yazeed Khayyat, manager of alternative fuels and environmental technology, and Rabbi Farraj, alternative fuels project coordinator at CTA, met Bob Mauro and me at the CTA garage in Chicago to give us a tour of the facilities. We were fortunate enough to have arrived during the refueling of one of the hydrogen buses. It was quite a sight! The National Clean Cities Program had painted the bus in a bright floral design for Earth Day celebrations in Chicago. We watched and talked as the Air Products and Chemicals liquid hydrogen refueling station filled the Ballard hydrogen bus in about 25 minutes. Once the bus was hooked up properly, it was a hands-free procedure. Once refueling was complete, the bus operator climbed in and began his typical morning route through the streets of Chicago.

In December, 1997, CTA was very excited about this project. Now, 20 months later, how do they feel? “We would love to get more hydrogen buses,” says Khayyat. Support at CTA and in the community has not waned. If anything, experience with the buses has built confidence for this once unfamiliar technology.

“That’s terrific!” I said. “But what about safety concerns? Now that you have been working with the bus for awhile, is there anything you have learned that you can share with the hydrogen community, any difficulties that you had not anticipated?”

Khayyat remarked that the CTA/Ballard/Air Products team had done a terrific job at putting this project together as a demonstration. But to replicate it across the country, standards would be needed. He emphasized the need for standards for designing and building hydrogen facilities. Standards are also required for designing and building buses or vehicles.

And while there has not been one safety incident with the hydrogen bus, the hydrogen sensors in the maintenance garage have caused some trouble, according to Farraj.

“They go off all the time,” he says. “We experience false positive indications approximately once every two weeks. The sensor will then be useless until it is reset manually.”

These sensors are designed to indicate the presence of escaped hydrogen, and are strategically located along the walls and ceiling of the maintenance garage.

“We believe the exhaust from the other buses are tripping the sensors,” says Khayyat. This is indicative of the need for more reliable sensors which adhere to standards developed and adopted by the hydrogen industry.

Bob and I then discussed the safety codes and standards activities at the NHA, and asked if CTA would be willing to help validate the applicable draft standards developed. They enthusiastically agreed.

Many thanks to CTA personnel for an interesting visit. Special thanks to Yazeed Khayyat for taking time on his day off to meet with us.

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