Lewis County Transit gets ‘first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the Pacific Northwest’


Editor's note: For a followup article focused on the difference in cost between buses powered by hydrogen and diesel, visit https://www.chronline.com/stories/diesel-vs-hydrogen-buses-lewis-county-transit-director-talks-cost-comparison,336787 

With Lewis County Transit’s fleet of diesel engine buses aging and incurring more repair costs, the public transit system on Monday, March 18, accepted the first of three hydrogen-powered buses it will add to its fleet this year.

“It’s the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the Pacific Northwest,” Lewis County Transit Executive Director Joe Clark said. “... They’re very quiet, and they’re emissions-free, so they make a good city bus.”

Lewis County Transit staff, along with representatives from New Flyer, were on hand to conduct acceptance inspections on the new bus, which was produced in New Flyer’s Anniston production facility in Alabama.

“New Flyer is the only hydrogen manufacturer that makes the hydrogen fuel cell buses in the country,” Clark added. “These buses are completely made in the USA, and they’re all under the zero-emission funding that we’re getting from the state.”

Lewis County Transit is part of the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub (PNWH2), which is receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. 

While Clark has been looking to move Lewis County Transit’s fleet to a zero-emission model and already has a fully electric bus operating, Clark stated the batteries had some issues over the winter and wouldn’t work up to standard in colder temperatures.

Hydrogen fuel cells don’t have that issue.

“They’ve actually been testing in Ontario, Canada, and didn’t have any problems down to -20 degrees,” Clark said.

He said he expects the second hydrogen bus to be delivered by May and the third by September.

Additionally, Clark expects to get two more in 2025, which is also when he expects Lewis County Transit’s hydrogen refueling station to be completed in Chehalis. A temporary hydrogen refueling station is being set up at Lewis County Transit’s headquarters for the buses’ testing period.

The hydrogen fuel cell buses will be tested on city routes. Drivers and mechanics must be trained to work on them before they begin replacing the diesel engine buses.

Once staff is ready, Lewis County Transit will begin phasing out their diesel buses one by one.

“We’ll start staggering them out, about one a year, until 2030,” Clark said. “I think we’re going to be zero-emission, at least with our heavy-duty bus fleet, by 2030.”

The new hydrogen fuel cell buses are longer than the diesel buses and can carry more passengers.

Clark said bus manufacturers are beginning to make smaller hydrogen “cutaway” buses as well, which he may add to Lewis County Transit’s fleet in the future.

Local organizations and agencies are participating in the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub (PNWH2), which in total will receive up to $1 billion. Lewis County Transit is also receiving state grants to help pay for the new buses, Clark said.

Recipients of the funding include Puget Sound Energy, Lewis County Transit, Centralia College and USA Fortescue Future Industries.