Low-emission bus technology to be studied at upcoming test and research facility

Ohio State’s transportation system may reduce carbon emissions in the future thanks to research conducted through the Transportation Research and Testing Laboratory.Image Credit: Nathan Mader | Lantern Reporter

The Transit Research and Testing Laboratory aims to lead the advancement of low-emission buses through research into electric and alternative fuel systems.

The facility will be built on the West Campus and will be managed by $26.5 million investment Federal Transit Administration from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The university announced a funding agreement for the facility in November, and the investment will support construction through fiscal year 2026.

The new facility will target advances in electric vehicles, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, said David Cook, senior deputy director of the Center for Automotive Research. Motor transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, so seeking to improve the transportation system is an urgent priority, he said.

“This region is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels — over 90 percent — and entirely on the internal combustion engine. So, that’s a very, very good fit for improvement,” Cook said.

Walt Dudek, director of the Commercial Vehicle Research and Test Laboratory, said the new facility will allow researchers to test new, greener technologies both at the level of the entire transit system and on an individual component basis.

“The bottom line is the bus itself has to work — to be more efficient and more reliable,” Dudek said.

A little improvement in research and testing could go a long way, Cook said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done on the batteries themselves to improve efficiency, reduce cost, make batteries with more readily available materials, and how they’re used is very important to their life,” Cook said.

Hydrogen fuel cells are another technology that needs to be refined to replace batteries, Cook said. Batteries are unique to batteries, he said, because they act as conversion devices, not just energy storage, meaning they take chemical energy and turn it into electricity.

“You put hydrogen in, and the fuel cell converts the hydrogen into electricity,” Cook said. “The coolest part is that the only inputs are hydrogen and oxygen from the air.”

Cook said more research is needed on the technology because of issues — including access to hydrogen fuel and high energy costs.

“While hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it doesn’t exist at the fuel cell level as a gas that’s readily available to us,” Cook said.

Cook said government and transportation industry demands will drive research in bus testing labs by emphasizing battery safety and the range of electric vehicles.

Dudek said the lab will work to make buses more reliable and efficient across the country, but it could also help the university reach its goals Future Sustainable Development Goalsespecially to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“If Ohio State buys new buses in the future, hopefully the improvements we’ve helped promote with our research will find their way into the regular bus market,” Dudek said. “Ohio is not a transit agency. They’re still buying the same buses as a transit agency.”

Improving the bus system is an important goal because people across the country use them every day, meaning any improvement will have a national impact, Dudek said.

“I think the focus of our work will be on improving and optimizing new technologies coming to market,” Dudek said. “This will deliver the benefits of zero-emissions technology to the greatest number of people.”

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