Transit Paving the Road for Trucking’s Clean Fuel Transition

April 6, 2022

Orange County Transportation Authority’s Santa Ana, California, hydrogen fueling station was built by Trillium and has been in operation since 2020.

A mass transition to cleaner transportation technology is happening. From near-zero emission natural gas to hydrogen to battery-electric vehicles, fleets are not only working to determine what technology best fits their needs, but evaluating whether their operations can rely on only one technology or an array of solutions. While heavy-duty trucking fleets are only just beginning to consider the logistics and economics of transitioning away from diesel, the transit market has been fully invested in the shift to clean fuel and technologies for several years.

“What we learn from transits can be transferred to heavy-duty,” said Kim Okafor, General Manager of Zero Emissions at Trillium. “Transit agencies in California have had zero emission mandates for longer than the trucking market and have been buying and figuring out zero emission technologies for years now.  Because of this, a lot of the lessons that transits have been learning  can be transferred to heavy-duty trucking fleets.”

Transit fleets around the country are taking advantage of available federal, state, and local funding to invest in technology that is commercially available today.

The State of Sustainable Fleets, an annual market and trends brief that provides insight into the significant developments in the clean fleet industry, confirms that transit leads adoption of early commercial heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). “Transit agencies have cited the advantages of FCEVs in transitioning to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), including the fueling cost savings achievable at scale, small infrastructure footprints, and a one-to-one vehicle replacement ratio for their longer-range service blocks,” according to the 2021 brief.

Fuel cell electric technology, still in its earliest stage, is expensive and transit fleets around the country are taking advantage of available federal, state, and local funding to invest in technology that is commercially available today, many to meet state requirements for a complete transition to ZEVs.

Fuel cell electric vehicles are still available in very limited production, however, the number of models announced for transit has doubled in the past year. With transit fleets leading the way and making these purchases, trucking fleets looking to make the investment in FCEVs will take advantage of technological advancements and experience gained from transit.

The transit sector continued to lead investments in FCEV technology in 2021 in both purchases of medium- and heavy-duty FCEVs (33 fuel cell buses) and deployments (10 fuel cell buses) inching total medium- and heavy-duty FCEV deployments toward 100 vehicles nationally. Transit agencies are buying fuel cell electric buses and are not waiting for public fueling stations but are developing the supporting infrastructure to fuel those vehicles at their depots.

Trillium, a leading provider of renewable fuels and clean and innovative energy solutions for fleets, has helped to design, build, and maintain innovative hydrogen fueling stations for transit fleets who have made the commitment to FCEV. The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) in Illinois recently announced a new partnership with Trillium for a green hydrogen fueling station to power their growing fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses. The transit district’s green hydrogen is produced on-site via electrolysis and on-site solar power generation.

Each alternative fueling source has its own set of limitation and benefits, and Trillium has the knowledge and experience to guide customers through fuel and energy pricing and procurement questions.

Trillium gained their first experience with hydrogen all the way back in 2018 with Orange County Transportation Authority’s Santa Ana, California, facility. That station was built to service 10 FCEV buses with the capability to expand to fuel a fleet of 50 buses.

“We were learning hydrogen alongside our customer,” said Okafor. “We recognized the diversification of our customers’ needs, products and services within the transportation industry and wanted to be one of the first fueling solution providers to have those lessons learned for hydrogen.”

Each alternative fueling source has its own set of limitation and benefits, and Trillium has the knowledge and experience to guide customers through fuel and energy pricing and procurement questions. Trillium is an extension of Love’s Travel Stops, which means they are also benefiting from Love’s long history of servicing the needs of the trucking industry.

Transit agencies face many of the same issues as trucking fleets, as far as a diversity of routes, accessible fueling options, the critical need to maximize the use of these vehicles in service for their customers and reduce unplanned downtime and maintenance. For example, fast fueling in the hydrogen market is needed for both transit and over the road trucking, and transit fleets are already gaining experience and knowledge that can improve the transition uncertainties for trucking fleets.

Transit buses can help to pave the way for early adoption of FCEV technology, but heavy-duty trucking will likely have to wait for improvements and cost reductions from economies of scale before significant market penetration. Currently most FCEV in use are transit buses, but Trillium is taking those lessons learned and moving faster to connect those two markets.

Kim Okafor is the General Manager of Zero Emission Solutions for Trillium and Love’s Travel Stop. This includes the development and management of the EV charging, hydrogen fueling, and solar businesses. She has been with Trillium since Love’s Travel Stop acquired the company in 2016. Kim also actively serves on the Board of Directors for the California Hydrogen Business Council. Kim has a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Houston. Kim’s goal as the General Manager of Zero Emission Solutions is to develop sustainable business opportunities that provide economic advantages for its customers.