Columbus under construction to become America's first 'smart city' PDF Print E-mail 

Columbus innovates safety in transportation

America’s first smart city is almost 2,500 miles from Silicon Valley. So it’s not San Francisco. It’s also 1,200 miles from Austin, Texas, home to one of America’s fastest-growing STEM workforces. It’s not Portland, Ore., Denver, Kansas City or Pittsburgh, either — though all were finalists in the 2016 Smart City Challenge.

America’s first smart city is Columbus, Ohio — the fastest-growing city in the Buckeye State and the second largest city in the Midwest, after Chicago.

Now, with $40 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and another $10 million from Vulcan Inc., a company founded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, Columbus — “The Crossroads of Ohio” — is poised to become the blueprint for the future of urban planning.


And what, exactly, is a “smart city”? It’s a buzzword, says Jordan Davis, director of smart cities at the Columbus Partnership. “What a smart city is, is not yet to be defined.”

But given the enormity and ambiguity of creating one, Davis and her colleagues are focusing on one thing at a time, starting with transportation. Columbus (pop. 860,090) experienced a worrisome increase in traffic congestion and car accidents as its population grew 1 percent last year, but Davis has no plans to add more highway lanes or parking garages. She’s not focusing on how many people are getting around, but how they’re getting around. 

“Mobility and transportation result in hundreds of deaths a year in our city,” Davis said. “If we can improve how people get around, we’ll save people’s lives.”


That means using integrated data exchange (IDE), which will collect data from sensors installed on traffic lights and from other databases; analyze the data to determine which intersections are prone to accidents and which streets are frequently blocked off; and then alert drivers, or even vehicles, accordingly.

It also will also look for parking solutions, because the Smart City Challenge reportestimates that 30 percent of urban traffic is caused by drivers looking for parking spaces. One suggestion is to develop technology that will inform drivers of available parking locations and tell them the safest route to get to them.

But drivers in Columbus, and in the rest of the country, are causing problems far worse than traffic congestion.


“Ninety-five percent of traffic accident fatalities are the result of human error,” says Doug Marsden, former chief technology officer at Transportation Research Center Inc. With 35,000 accidents occurring every year in the U.S., Columbus hopes to achieve a future that takes people out of the driver’s seat. And it’s not alone: 53 of the 78 cities that competed in the Smart City Challenge proposed implementing dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), which uses a special frequency that allows vehicles to communicate directly with one another, in their proposals.

“One of the biggest issues today is when the car is making a left-hand turn and they can’t see another car coming at them,” says Carla Bailo, assistant vice president of mobility research and business development at Ohio State University. Vehicles equipped with DSRC can avoid such “T-bone collisions,” even if the driver doesn’t see the other vehicle, because his vehicle knows it’s there and will not accelerate. Columbus is asking drivers to sign up for the connected vehicles initiative on its website.

“When I say safety, it’s not just for the car and the driver,” said Bailo, explaining that the goal is to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place. Radar and cameras installed for cars will be able to distinguish between living things and inanimate objects. A camera-oriented collision avoidance system will alert city bus drivers to pedestrians and pets. Enhanced LED streetlights in residential neighborhoods will make driving safer at night. And there’s more, though most of the Transportation Department’s initiatives for the city won’t be launched until late next year.


Improving traffic conditions in commercial areas is also critical. Plans call for real-time scheduling of downtown deliveries in order to minimize congestion. Long-haul truck drivers will benefit from both an interstate truck parking platform designed to help them find parking and from “platooning” — connecting long-haul trucks on Greater Columbus freeways so they can travel together. This will reduce fuel emissions, something the Columbus Smart City plan takes very seriously.

The plan also calls for introducing 780 electric vehicles into the city’s public and private sectors by 2020, implementing automated shuttles and creating a system that adjusts speed limits in conditions like inclement weather.

The public is encouraged to be part of the planning process by providing innovative ideas, but be forewarned: “Anyone that’s bringing new technology to the Smart Columbus area will need to prove it out first in a safe and secure facility,” Marsden said.


But if everything works, getting around Columbus should become significantly safer and more efficient.

“It’s going to allow people in and out of the city for major events with less congestion,” Marsden said. “It’s going to allow them to find parking spots quicker through mobile applications on their phones and parking lot sensors. It will expose people to these advanced technologies that are going to be commonplace in five, 10 years.”

As for the future of self-driving cars, Bailo estimates it will be another 30 to 40 years before autonomous cars are allowed on most public roads, but she anticipates seeing them in HOV lanes or special geo-fenced-in areas by 2025.


Davis says Columbus won’t become a smart city overnight. It will be a living laboratory for many months. Still, she has a good idea of what to look forward to.

“A smart city really, truly allows our community to be more efficient, safer and enables us to grow,” she said.

“That, at the end of the day, is a smart city, and therefore, a safer city.” 

Hydrogen in the air smells like money PDF Print E-mail

When I received the September issue of IEEE Spectrum Magazine, it reminded me of a Mooresville Tribune column I had written back in 2011 headlined “There’s hydrogen in the air.”

There on the Spectrum cover was a formation of three airplanes. The sidebar said, “Cleared for takeoff...electric airplanes are launching a new era in aviation.” They turned out to be battery powered but a much more promising electric plane design is based on hydrogen fuel cells.

Mooresville played an all-too-brief role in the birth of hydrogen aviation. Back in 2007, the Mooresville Hydrail Initiative brought Professor Tarun Huria from India to Salisbury to speak about hydrogen locomotive design. One thing led to another and Professor Huria wound up at the University of Pisa, Italy, as the first PhD candidate in hydrail (hydrogen rail) technology.

As part of his coursework, Dr. Huria designed the power system for the European Commission’s first hydrogen airplane. Boeing had flown their first manned hydrogen fuel cell plane in April, 2008 but the EU’s Czech fuel–cell–and–battery powered RAPID 200-FC ultra-light plane set world records for speed (93 mph) and endurance (45 minutes).

A couple of years ago, Daryl Wilson, the CEO of Hydrogenics of Mississauga, Ontario—supplier of fuel cells for Germany’s first 60 hydrail trains—called my attention to the fact that they are also supplying fuel cells for Germany’s H2FLY air taxi development consortium.

For me the news was a bit poignant. I’d nurtured hopes that Mooresville’s race shop wizards would branch-out into the custom hydrogen fuel cell airplane business, catering to racing moguls like Dietrich Mateschitz, then owner of the Red Bull Racing Team here in Mooresville. His private collection of aircraft, housed near the Salzburg, Austria, airport may be the world's most impressive.

Aviation innovation holds some special attraction for the rich and famous. Howard Hughes loved fast toys with wings. Malcolm Forbes sought to circle the world in his hot air balloon. Singer John Denver was flying a spiffy little sport plane when he ran out of gas (and luck) over the Pacific.

Surely the fact that Boeing and the EU have conceived and built hydrogen fuel cell planes shows there’s about to be an affluent early-adopter market for hydrogen electric sport planes. I flogged the idea around Race City for a couple of years but found no takers for H2 plane or H2 pace cars either. Though there was no local interest in H2 pace cars, back then Ford’s racing office and hydrogen internal combustion engine lab loved the idea. We kept in touch for years and I still get the occasional email from Dearborn.

If Mooresville had read for the hydrogen Kitty Hawk part, I saw it leading to a national security industry. Silent electric planes would be cool for inserting spooks and extracting notables in James Bond situations. Imagine Nils Bohr being spirited out of Sweden and into atomic history in a silent hydrogen fuel cell plane rather than the noisier DeHavilland Mosquito actually used.

These days, drones rivet our attention and—for reasons of range and flight duration—hydrogen is bound to emerge as the fuel of choice. On large planes, hydrogen is expected to emerge first as a lighter than carbon fuel for auxiliary power units.

There may still be time for Mooresville to spread its hydrogen wings and backfill some of the space created by the fading of fossil fuel racing.

Can’t you just sniff it? The money-smell of hydrogen hangs in the air. 

Fuel cells could boost Europe’s energy security, conference hears PDF Print E-mail

Europe could boost its energy security through existing hydrogen and fuel celltechnology, according to industry experts.

The discussion took place at a recent conference in Tallinn, Estonia titled The Role of Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology in Delivering Energy Security for Europe. The conference was organized by Estonia’s National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB), Finnish technical research centre VTT and European solid oxide fuel cell company Elcogen, which makes micro- and industrial fuel cell combined heat and power (CHP) systems.

According to the conference speakers, existing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies have proved their potential for Europe’s energy mix but the challenge is now to ensure their large-scale market adoption.

Needed to achieve this aim are further research into reducing costs and durability, continuing current European co-operation across industry, academia and government, ensuring that public funding is maintained, and focusing such funding towards addressing issues involved in implementation, commercialization and mass manufacturing.

Conference speaker Prof Robert Steinberger-Wilckens of the UK’s University of Birmingham said the main issue for Europe was “energy imports which we have to get away from.

“Integrating more renewables is the key, with hydrogen being one of the options for storage.

“The other thing is the threat to infrastructure, whether that’s natural disaster or storms or malignant interference. In Germany there was a snowstorm, three or four years ago, and some parts of the country were without any energy supply for three weeks in winter. In a case like Florida where everything is flooded, decentralized energy production could have helped – it makes the whole energy system much more resilient.”

And Enn Õunpuu, CEO of solid oxide fuel cell manufacturer Elcogen, added that “to be independent of imported primary energy we should increase local production. Storage is still a challenge and, although batteries are seen as the main storage technology, fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells in particular are the most efficient technology for electrolyzing and storing energy in the form of hydrogen.”

Nikola Motor Company and Bosch team up on long-haul fuel cell truck PDF Print E-mail

A truck with up to 1,200 miles in range will run on Bosch’s eAxle platform.

Enlarge / This is what the Nikola Two will look like.
Nikola Motor Company

Salt Lake City-based Nikola Motor Company and German auto components giant Bosch are teaming up to build the Nikola One and Nikola Two—a pair of hydrogen-electric, long-haul trucks that will compete with the handful of other low-emissions trucks and powertrains that have been announced in mid-2017.

The Nikola One truck isn’t a new development, but the startup’s partnership with Bosch is. Last December, Nikola Motor Company announced that it would build a hydrogen-electric truck that would be able to travel 1,200 miles on a tank of hydrogen and deliver 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. The company said at the time that its truck, deemed the Nikola One, would be market-ready by 2020.

Now, that market-ready date has been pushed back to 2021, but adding Bosch’s experience into the mix no doubt helps firm up Nikola Motor Company’s projections. According to a press release from the startup, the class 8 Nikola One and Nikola Two will now be built on Bosch’s eAxle—an integrated unit blending motor, power electronics, and transmission. Bosch's eAxle was only just announced this January.

The Nikola trucks will both pair hydrogen fuel cells with a 320kWh battery pack and offer a payload capacity of 65,000 pounds. That number demonstrates just how much bigger long-haul trucks need to be versus short-haul trucks—Daimler announced a new all-electric short haul truck last week, but its payload capacity will be about 7,000 pounds.

At the moment, Nikola Motor Company's primary competitor would be Cummins, the diesel truck engine maker that announced an all-electric powertrain capable of hauling 22 tons, or about 44,000 pounds, on a 140kWh battery pack for 100 miles. Cummins said the power train could be paired with an on-board diesel generator to triple the car's range.

Although battery-only trucks have a much shorter range than hydrogen-electric vehicles, both new technologies are hampered by a similar problem, that is, where to refuel/recharge. Back in December, Nikola Motor Company added that it would build 364 hydrogen fueling stations throughout North America starting in 2018.

The dual-motor design and the fuel cell system in the Nikola One and Two will also be developed with Bosch's help, with a view to maximizing the truck's range. The truck's controls and software will also be a product of the Nikola/Bosch partnership. Bosch is well familiar with vehicle software, too—notoriously it helped develop the software that Volkswagen diesel vehicles ran to cheat federal emissions tests.

But with fuel cell vehicles, the only emission is water, so it strains the imagination to think of a way to repeat such a stunt. At the moment, prices aren't available for the Nikola One or Two, but the company says the trucks will reflect "a competitive total cost of ownership" compared to traditional powertrains.

Ballard to supply hydrogen fuel cells to Pau buses PDF Print E-mail


20 Sept 2017 

FRANCE: Ballard Power Systems has signed a letter of intent with Van Hool to provide hydrogen fuel cells for eight buses that Van Hool is supplying to operate a BRT route in Pau.

Due to be delivered in the second half of 2019, the 18 m buses with capacity for 125 passengers will use fuel cells with back up from lithium batteries. Ballard will supply its FCveloCity-HD 100 kW fuel cell engines. These will allow the buses to run for up to 300 km between refuelling, which takes 10 min.

ENGIE subsidiary GNVERT is to build and operate the hydrogen refuelling stations. The project is being funded through the EU’s Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking programme.

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