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Hawai’i County’s Hele-On to Operate the State’s First Hydrogen Bus
The Mass Transit Agency is committed to transitioning its entire fleet to zero emissions by 2035 through the use of hydrogen and battery electric technology

HILO, HI. April 18, 2022 - The County of Hawai’i Mass Transit Agency (MTA; in support of its partnership with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) and US Hybrid, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ideanomics (NASDAQ: IDEX) has taken delivery of its first hydrogen fuel-cell powered bus intended for operation on Routes 202, 203 and 204 in Kailua-Kona later this spring  The bus is expected to travel approximately 100 miles a day and will be rotated between the three routes in Kailua-Kona. The bus was delivered to Hawai’i Island on the 23rd of March and is being prepared for service.

In 2019, the Hawai’i County Council accepted the 21-passenger, 2014 El Dorado Aero Elite as a donation from HNEI. Originally purchased as a gasoline powered vehicle, it was converted by US Hybrid to hydrogen with a new state-of-the-art 40 kW U.S. Hybrid fuel cell and its proprietary electric drive system. The County Council is also awaiting delivery of two 19-passenger 2012 El Dorado Aero Elite buses converted for hydrogen fuel-cell power that were donated by the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

This first bus will be operated and maintained by Roberts Hawaii in Kailua-Kona until the baseyard in Kailua-Kona is completed (tentatively scheduled for 2025), at which time the maintenance will be transitioned to the MTA.  Until this transition is completed, the bus will be maintained and fueled at the state-of-the-art hydrogen station built and operated by HNEI at the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaiʻi Authority (NELHA) campus next to the Kailua-Kona airport.  The station’s 65-kilogram per day hydrogen production is capable of fueling all three buses. The station was commissioned last year. Funding for the station came from a variety of sources including the Office of Naval Research, the State of Hawaii, and NELHA.  The bus was purchased by HNEI using funds from the Energy Systems Development Special Fund, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research.

The remaining two 2012 El Dorado Aero Elite buses will be delivered later in 2022. .  These buses, currently powered with a 30kW hydrogen drive system, are being upgraded with the same 40kW U.S. Hybrid fuel cells and A123 Lithium-ion batteries as the 21-passenger bus to simplify maintenance issues.   The upgrades to the two remaining buses are being funded from the General Excise Tax (GET) provided by the County of Hawaiʻi.

“Hele-On is excited to be at the cutting-edge and pioneering new fuel technology to reduce our carbon footprint and provide quality service to Hawai’i County residents and visitors” stated John Andoh, Mass Transit Administrator & General Manager of the MTA.  “This hydrogen bus pilot will set the framework for the MTA to consider hydrogen buses that can operate across island in the future once a hydrogen station in Hilo is constructed.” Additional program elements include workforce and first responders training on how to operate and maintain a hydrogen bus. HNEI and US Hybrid are providing this training.

In 2017 the four County mayors committed to transitioning the public transit fleets to zero emissions by 2035.  In November 2020, MTA in partnership with Roberts Hawaii, initiated operation of a battery electric bus in Hilo as a first step in MTA’s long-term plans to convert the entire fleet to zero-emission technology.  The move to electric and hydrogen powered vehicles is part of MTA’s plan to convert the Hele-On fleet to 100 percent zero-emission technology by 2035.

MTA is working in partnership with the Hawai’i Department of Transportation and the neighbor islands of Maui and Kaua’i to implement a zero-emission bus (ZEB) rollout plan, which includes operation of battery electric buses on each island.  MTA is testing both hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses and plug-in battery-electric buses to determine which ZEBs best meet MTA’s needs related to operations, maintenance, and cost, among other factors.

MTA will begin phasing in additional zero-emission buses as part of future bus purchases beginning in 2023. At the same time, staff will continue to analyze emerging technologies and work with partners to secure funding for purchase, operations, and maintenance of the buses.

A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned for May at Kona Commons to coincide with the hydrogen bus being put into formal service.  More details will be available in the near future.

“This is a great opportunity for us to gather important data about the latest zero-emission technologies to ensure we continue providing the highest level of safe, reliable transit to Hawai’i County riders,” said Mayor Mitchell D. Roth who has been championing a more sustainable Hawai’i County. “At the same time, we are helping provide an even cleaner environment.” Roth stated.

Rick Rocheleau, HNEI Director said: “This project, part of HNEI’s hydrogen infrastructure program, supports the introduction of zero emissions buses for public transportation and will provide valuable information to the public transportation agencies allowing them to make more informed decisions as they transition from their legacy diesel fleets to newer vehicle technology.  This project is also an important component of HNE’s mandate to help Hawaii reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.” 

“Achieving this milestone was truly a team effort and I would like to acknowledge the outstanding support HNEI’s project has received from many partners, including our host site landlord NELHA, the County of Hawaii Administration and County Council, the County of Hawaii  Mass Transit Agency, Roberts Hawaii, the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (HCATT), US Hybrid for their tremendous efforts in supplying and commissioning the bus, and of course our funding partners including the US Department of Energy Fuel Cell Technologies Office who provided the initial funding to start the project, the State of Hawaii, US Hybrid, the Naval Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).”

“HNEI looks forward to working closely with the County of Hawaii Administration, MTA, and County Council to support a smooth introduction to a zero emissions public transportation system.”

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About Hele-On:  Hele-On is a service of the County of Hawai’i Mass Transit Agency and provides countywide public transit services on 23 fixed and flex routes countywide, Hele-On Kako’o for ADA complementary paratransit service in Hilo, Kailua-Kona and Puna, a shared ride taxi program with three taxi companies in Hilo, countywide senior and persons with disabilities transportation service in partnership with Hawaii County Economic Opportunities Council (HCEOC) and Brantley Center and 10 HIBike bikeshare stations in Hilo and Kailua-Kona in partnership with PATH. Hele-On transports approximately 400,000 passenger trips a year on a fleet of more than 30 buses, vans, and a trolley. Transit services are provided under contract with Roberts Hawai’i, taxicab companies, Transdev, HCEOC, Brantley Center and PATH. For additional Hele-On information, please call (808) 961-8744, TDD/TTY: 711 through the relay service, email: heleonbus@hawaiicounty.gov  or visit www.heleonbus.org.

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About Hawaii Natural Energy Institute: In 2007, the Hawai‘i Legislature established HNEI in state law with an expanded mandate to coordinate with state and federal agencies and demonstrate and deploy energy efficiency and peak demand reduction technologies. The law also created the Energy Systems Development Special Fund which receives a portion of the State tax on imported fossil fuels, to match funds from federal and private sources, and to award contracts or grants for developing and deploying renewable energy technologies. (HRS Secs. 304A-1891-1894 and Sec. 304A-2169.1)

HNEI seeks alliances to support transitions to reliable and affordable clean energy while enhancing the benefits afforded to residents of Hawai‘i and beyond. These have included close working relationships with industry and governmental entities at every level, such as federal funding agencies, the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission, Hawai‘i State Energy Office, the Hawai‘i Legislature, members of Hawai‘i’s Congressional delegation, and governments in the Asia-Pacific region. By engaging a wide range of disciplines and stakeholders, HNEI is able to tackle the urgent and complex clean energy needs of our State, the nation, and the global communities in which we serve.

About US Hybrid  

US Hybrid specializes in designing and manufacturing zero-emission electric powertrain components, including traction motors, controllers, auxiliary drives, energy storage and fuel cell engines for electric, hybrid, and fuel cell medium and heavy-duty municipality vehicles, commercial trucks, buses, and specialty vehicles throughout the world. US Hybrid is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ideanomics (NASDAQ: IDEX), a global group with a simple mission to accelerate the commercial adoption of electric vehicles. To learn more about US Hybrid, please visit https://ushybrid.com/.  

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