Ford Hydrogen Bus Is $250,000 For 2-Year Lease, Experimental Status Boosts Costs

By John O'Dell February 11, 2008

Turning E-450 Shuttle van into hydrogen burner more than doubles its cost.

Here's a little eye-opener for those who see articles about test programs for emissions-free hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen-burning internal combustion engines and wonder why they're not publicly available yet.

The California Air Resources Board is acquiring two Ford E-450 shuttle vans powered by 6.8-liter, V-10 diesel engines converted to run on hydrogen.  The first was put into service this weeked in the San Francisco Bay area community of East Palo Alto.

As conventional diesel vans, the 21-passenger E-450s cost about $100,000 each, a CARB spokesman said.

The converted vans will cost $250,000 each -- and that's for a two-year lease. Ford gets the vehicles back af the end of the leases. "We pay $125,000 upfront for delivery," said CARB's Dimitri Stanich, "and an additional $125,000 over two years for lease payments that cover all maintenance and other operating costs."

The bus operator also has to pay for the fuel, which typically runs $3-$5 per gallon-equivalent and is pretty hard to find--there are only 23 hydrogen stations inthe entire state of California.

Ford, which claims to be the first automaker in the world to deliver hydrogen-burning commercial vehicles, says it will build and lease 30 of the shuttle buses this year. 

CARB is slated to get one more, to be put into service in southern San Diego County, near the Mexican border. The rest will be parceled out to agencies in other states -- several already are in use in Florida.

Most of the extra cost is in the buses' on-board fuel storage systems, said John Lapetz, manager of Ford's hydrogen engine program.

The buses each are outfitted with six lightweight, high-pressure tanks to store a total of 30 kilograms of gaseous hydrogen compressed at a pressure of 5,000 pounds per square inch. One kilogram is the equivalent of a gallon of gas.

The system weighs in at almost 2,000 pounds and its weight and bulk eats up almost half the seating room – cutting occupancy in the converted bus to 12 (the California buses will have 8 passenger seats and a space for a wheelchair.)

"These are experimental, and almost everything has to be hand-assembled, which is quite expensive," said Lapetz.

Additionally, Ford is covering hydrogen vehicle training for the buses' drivers, for police and fire agencies where the buses will be used, and for local Ford dealership service departments.

Before launching its commercial test program, designed to gather real-world operating data on the hydrogen internal combustion engines, Ford built its own test fleet of 10 buses and subjected them to three years of hot and cold weather testing, durability testing and crash testing.  "We have quite a lot of engineering invested," Lapetz said.

At the end of each lease, Ford engineers will tear down each vehicle to examine the engines, fuel systems and related part..

Setting aside aside the difficulty in finding hydrogen fuel to run 'em on, all that testing and development and hand-building is a big part of the reason you won't be seeing hydrogen-burning Mustangs of other vehicles at your local Ford dealership any time soon.

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