U.S. Hybrid Powers World’s First Fuel Cell Street Sweeper


The world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered street sweeper, and clean truck and bus deals with two of China’s biggest vehicle makers, underscore U.S. Hybrid’s growing role in the green vehicles arena.

U.S. Hybrid provided a briefing on the deals and outlined its business strategy at ACT Expo, a green transportation conference in Long Beach, this week.

The sweeper, built by San Bernardino, Calif.-based Global Environmental Products, is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell system from U.S. Hybrid. It will be used by California’s transportation agency, Caltrans, as part of its freeway sweeping fleet.

Additionally, U.S. Hybrid unveiled a fuel cell shuttle bus project with a unit of China’s BYD and said it plans to team with China’s Dongfeng Motor Corp. to provide fuel– cell and battery-electric powertrains for a variety of Donfeng trucks to be sold in the U.S. and globally.

The shuttle will start making rounds between Honolulu airport and a nearby rental car center in September. The first of the Donfeng-U.S. Hybrid trucks, a Class 6 delivery truck, will go on sale in the U.S. later this year.

The deals are part of a growth spurt that 19-year-old U.S. Hybrid hopes will make it a key global player in the low- and zero-emissions commercial vehicle industry, Abas Goodarzi, the company’s chief executive, told Trucks.com

For many of the projects, the company is using fuel cells that it builds at a facility in Connecticut. The electronic controls are developed at the company headquarters in Torrance, Calif.

A fuel cell system produces electricity from compressed hydrogen gas in a thermo-chemical process, then uses the electricity to power an electric motor or motors that drive the vehicle. The fuel cell and hydrogen tank take the place of a battery-electric vehicle’s bulky and heavy battery pack.

Making hydrogen gas produces a substantial amount of the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but electric motors are so efficient that studies by scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have found it to be cleaner than gasoline or diesel when used as a vehicle fuel.

For the sweeper, it also provides power for the brushes, blowers and vacuum.

The sweeper’s 20-kilogram hydrogen supply enables it to operate nonstop for 10 hours and can be refilled at any of the nearly two dozen hydrogen stations in the Los Angeles Basin, typically in under 10 minutes, Goodarzi said.

A kilogram of hydrogen contains the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.

The powertrain was designed to propel the 11-ton sweeper through three duty cycles, each consisting of 25 miles of 55 mph highway driving to get to and from the work site and an additional 25 miles of sweeping at 10 mph.

U.S. Hybrid and Global already build a diesel-electric hybrid sweeper used by the New York City sanitation department, but this is the first fuel cell sweeper, Goodarzi said.

The hybrid sweeper delivers a 55 percent fuel savings and a 58 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the fuel cell model is expected to nearly double that fuel efficiency with zero tailpipe emissions, “to support California’s mission to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emission,” he said.

Hawaii Shuttle

The rental car center at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport soon will be shuttling travelers in a 27-passenger, 35-foot hydrogen fuel cell electric bus built by U.S. Hybrid and electric bus and truck manufacturer BYD’s North American unit.

BYD will convert one of its battery-electric shuttles for the project, while U.S. Hybrid is supplying the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain and related components, Goodarzi said.

BYD is based in China but has a large U.S. subsidiary that builds electric buses and trucks in Lancaster, Calif., about 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

The U.S. Hybrid fuel cell system will enable the shuttle to operate 16 hours a day, while a battery-electric bus would be limited to a single shift before needing to be recharged, Goodarzi said.

Teaming with BYD — the world’s largest electric bus maker — not only opens the California clean bus and truck market to U.S. Hybrid’s fuel cell powertrains, it gives the company a foot in the door to the huge Chinese market, he said.

The fuel cell shuttle is slated to go into service Sept. 1, he said.

The Honolulu rental car shuttle will carry about 30 kilograms of hydrogen and will be able to cover about 300 miles between refills, Goodarzi said.

There is no retail hydrogen station in Honolulu, but the airport shuttle will be able to refill at the hydrogen station at Hickam Air Force Base, adjacent to Inouye International. Hickam, which makes its own hydrogen fuel at a plant running on renewable solar energy, has long been a fuel cell vehicle test center for the military.

Electrified Trucks

In a second venture with a major Chinese vehicle builder, U.S. Hybrid is teaming with Dongfeng Motor to provide powertrains for multiple classes of Dongfeng’s commercial trucks.

Buyers interested in zero emissions models will be able to specify the type of U.S. Hybrid powertrain— battery-electric or fuel cell. Pricing and other details have not yet been announced.

The initial Dongfeng-branded Class 6 truck for the U.S. market will have up to 300 miles of range with U.S. Hybrid’s 80 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell system, Goodarzi said.

The battery-electric version will deliver “more than 150 miles” of range and will use a U.S. Hybrid electric drive system with a rechargeable battery pack rated at “more than 100 kilowatt-hours,” he said.

Dongfeng is one of China’s major passenger and commercial vehicle companies. Its Special Vehicles division is one the world’s largest builders of battery and fuel cell trucks, with more than 64,000 of its battery-electric trucks operating in China today, Goodarzi said.