After long delays, the county’s first hydrogen bus could be driving on Kailua-Kona’s streets by May.
During a Tuesday meeting of the County Council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, Mass Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira said the first of three hydrogen buses should be operational and on the island within about six weeks.
The first bus is a 2014 Eldorado 29-passenger Aero Elite vehicle that was donated to the county by the University of Hawaii Natural Energy Institute after it was converted from diesel power and upgraded to fuel cells that run on hydrogen fuel.
That bus will be subject to a test drive on Oahu next week, Carreira said. Should that test go well, it will be repainted with Hele-On colors and transported to the county — on the county’s dime — and drivers and mechanics will undergo training sessions for the new equipment.
A fueling station, using hydrogen fuel produced at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, already was installed in Kailua-Kona. Carreira said that station can fully refuel a bus in 10 minutes.
However, while the bus can be fueled on the island as early as May, the infrastructure necessary to maintain and repair the fuel cells will still be absent. That repair infrastructure will cost at least $1 million to install, Carreira said.
Because of this, Carreira said it will be risky to operate the bus for the time being because any damage or failure of the vehicle will be irreparable until the infrastructure is installed. She did not offer a time frame Tuesday for that installation.
Another two hydrogen buses also are scheduled to be sent to the island: a pair of shuttle buses were donated by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, Carreira said they still require additional upgrades before they can be sent to the island from Oahu.
Funding for the necessary equipment is provided by grants awarded more than five years ago from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research and the state’s hydrogen fund.
Carreira said she wants to get the buses up and running as soon as possible. In 2017, all mayors in the state signed a proclamation vowing to convert all county bus fleets to hydrogen power by 2035.
“Some of the drivers are worried that we’re going into this too fast, but it’s only scary because it’s something new,” Carreira said.
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