European buses to be fueled by Vancouver clean technology

Clean Capital News - BC Transit Fuel Cell Bus (Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy)

By Maura Forrest

February 6, 2014

Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems will supply two fuel cell power modules to German buses later this year. The agreement was signed last week with Polish manufacturer Solaris Bus and Coach, and is the latest in a series of contracts with European clients, including Van Hool in Belgium and Wrightbus in the United Kingdom.

“It’s exciting, because it’s a little bit of additional momentum going on in the market, which we’re very happy to see,” said Guy McAree, Ballard’s director of marketing and investor relations.

The announcement comes two months after BC Transit confirmed it will not be renewing a five-year contract for 20 hydrogen buses operating in Whistler. Instead, those buses will be replaced with a diesel fleet in March 2014.

Ballard supplied the fuel cells for Whistler’s hydrogen buses, which were plagued by high maintenance costs and reports of mechanical failures in cold weather.

McAree says allegations of poor performance are “simply wrong”.

“Our buses perform very well in cold weather,” he said. “The module that we provide has gone through extensive cold testing. It performed very well in Whistler.”

Still, McAree acknowledges that fuel cell technology in buses is not yet cost-competitive with diesel, or even diesel hybrids. Decisions to buy hydrogen buses are dependent on government funding, which he says is lacking in Canada.

“We’re selling more buses in Europe than anywhere else, so that tells you something about their interest in investing in clean solutions,” he said. “We’re not selling many buses in Canada, I can tell you that.”

McAree says the cost of the fuel cell modules is continuing to decline. But for now, the company is focusing on other areas of growth, including fuel cell backup power systems for wireless telecom providers.

Many of Ballard’s products are cost-competitive, says McAree, though the company does face challenges in attracting interest to fuel cell technology.

“It’s still an early-day situation for fuel cells,” he said. “We are not yet a readily accepted solution for different application areas. We’re trying to establish enough examples of good performance and cost-competitiveness that we can really get great traction in the marketplace.”



Photo Credit: Michael Chu