Some folks might remember back on July 20th that the HTA (Humboldt Transit Authority) received a grant for almost $40 million dollars, in order to purchase a new fleet of the famous eco-friendly Hydrogen Fuel hybrid Electric Bus for our transit system. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but soon after that on July 23 in Connecticut (CT) an off-duty electric bus caught fire, having carried passengers just 3 days prior.
Electric Bus! Fancy Wheels for Humboldt
The coincidental close-time proximity of these local/national electric bus headlines settled in my mind together. The two coalesced giving birth to some questions regarding the safety of our new big-ticket Hybrid Electric Bus fleet-to-be.
Some Questions Answered
It wasn’t but a week or so later that I got a chance to get some of these questions answered. On August 4th I went to the campaign launch of ward 1 Eureka City Council member Leslie Castellano. At this event, Nattalie Arroyo, future district 2 Humboldt County Board member, current ward 3 Eureka City Council member, and Chair of the HTA board of directors was gracious enough to field some questions for me.
As seen in the video below, Arroyo was very accommodating. She filled me in on some details of the Project I was unaware of, clearing up the Hybrid Nature of the new electric Bus with Hydrogen Fuel cells producing electricity with batteries storing the generated electricity.
Hydrogen makes the Electricity, the battery stores it
Arroyo also stated that the electric bus style purchased by the HTA was a different brand than the electric bus that caught fire in CT. Additionally that the new buses would be on a more frequent maintenance schedule in an attempt to avoid such scenarios. It was also mentioned that the new busses could only cover routes around town due to range limitations.
New Questions Arise, Electric Bus Fire same manufacturer
Around the first week of October, this story resurfaced in my mind. With California gas prices higher than ever, and Biden’s Build Back Better platform producing record inflation coupled with economic instability, the whole bus story kept creeping up in my peripheral vision.
I found myself wondering if there was any relationship between the new electric bus fleet coming to Humboldt and the CT electric bus that tragically went up in flames. This is where things got a little interesting. It turns out that what Arroyo stated about the hybrid buses being different brands was not entirely accurate, they are in fact just different models from the same manufacturer.
Same manufacturer, just a different model
The buses that HTA purchased are a next-generation model of the Xcelsior Charge H2TM produced by New Flyer. In contrast, the bus that caught fire in CT is an XE40 battery-electric bus by New Flyer.
“New Flyer said it has delivered over 500 battery-electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles that have completed over 13 million miles of service.”Reuters Article Title: “U.S. NTSB to probe electric bus fire in Connecticut” –LINK
Both use a variation of a Lithium-ion Battery with descriptions I could find in the images below, while the battery for the new busses is claimed to be a safer combination of Lithium, Cobalt, and Manganese it is unclear to what extent.
The Lithium Battery Breakdown
From the information, I was able to find, I believe the Xcelsior Charge H2TM battery is manufactured by ESS, while the XE40 battery electric buses that caught fire are manufactured by XALT Energy. I also found this description of different Lithium batteries, with their typical uses, benefits, and drawbacks.
Rare Yet Challenging
While the bus and electric vehicle fires are seemingly rare as seen in the image below, “lithium-ion battery fires are difficult to extinguish due to the thermal chemical process that produces great heat and continually reignites.” So much so that EV fires can take 40 or more times as much water to extinguish than internal combustion engine fires.
New Earth Center project opposed by community
Upon reading through the July 20th HTA press release, I noticed that the funding for the new electric buses is one and the same as that for the new “Earth Center” project, which is set to remove a large section of parking in Eureka’s old town district. I remembered this because I was at that meeting, and there was a significant amount of the community attending in opposition.
This was supposedly a separate issue, brought before the public and voted on in February. However, if the grant money was already procured for both projects, what was the point of having the meeting or receiving public input?
It seems the meetings and the election for both projects being conducted after the grant money for the projects had already been procured in some ways compromised the integrity of the entire process. If the projects were already bought and paid for with 40 million dollars in grant money prior to informing and including the community it seems as though this is just another example of hypocrisy crystalized in Humboldt County.
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