Hawai’i County unveils first hybrid hydrogen- and electric-powered bus
July 12, 2023, 2:30 AM HST
When Hawai’i County officials unveiled the Big Island’s first hybrid hydrogen and electric bus, people were pleased by the soft sound, clean air and lack of nauseous gases.
“Look at what comes out of the vehicle – you don’t see smog, you just see water coming out,” Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth said. “We’ve been looking at ways to have green energy, and hydrogen looks like the way of the future”
Roth spoke during the Hawaiʻi County Mass Transit Agency’s “Meet the Bus” event in Kona that included representatives from Robert’s Hawai’i, which operates the county’s Hele-On bus systems, and U.S. Hybrid.
The event was an opportunity for the public to engage with the agency, explore the alternatively fueled bus, and learn about the latest developments in public transportation.
The bus is one of three planned hybrid buses that the county will use, running on a mix of hydrogen-and electric-powered engines.
Attendees took a trip around town for its unveiling after a blessing from kumu Keala Ching. The project had been in the works for several years, officials said. This bus is the first in what will soon be several projects to bring more alternative energy to the island.
“This is a use of new technology, renewable energy,” said Robert’s Hawai’i executive Vice President Randy Baldemor. “We’re starting to learn about this technology and implement it in our processes.”
The new hybrid bus 111 will run the 202 route — around Hawai’i Civic Center and Costco in Kona, said Jennifer Martin of Hele-On.
The bus is not able to make long distance trips just yet, she said, because its fuel station is located at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in West Hawai’i.
“So we have to keep it here to fuel it,” she said.
Todd Martin, US Hybrid’s Hawai’i operations director who helped oversee the project, said it took about six months to transfigure the bus to a hybrid hydrogen/electric system, with the testing phase taking about another year.
He said the bus works by a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity and stores it in a battery pack that powers the bus.
“This is a 40 kilowatt fuel cell,” he said. “The following buses will be 80 kilowatts. This bus is meant for rural travel.”
Martin said this is the first of its kind in the state in terms of public transportation, and that state officials are looking to create more hydrogen or alternative fuel jobs in the state to help train people locally for the future of this industry.