Fuel Management

A Hydrogen-Fueled Future? UCLA's Hydrogen Vehicle Testing

March 2013, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

At A Glance
UCLA Transportation’s testing of Toyota fuel-cell vehicles provides a mutually beneficial experience:
  • UCLA’s carpool program receives a boost in recognition.
  • UCLA furthers its state of being in a “progressive research institution.”
  • UCLA staff and faculty get first-hand experience driving a vehicle not available to the public.
  • Drivers can educate curious citizens and spread knowledge about fuel cell technology.
  • Toyota gets vehicle and driving information for regular Los Angeles commutes in order to improve or modify its products.

By testing the Toyota FCHV-adv fuel-cell cars, UCLA helps boost awareness for the technology.

By testing the Toyota FCHV-adv fuel-cell cars, UCLA helps boost awareness for the technology.

Your Los Angeles-area colleagues and friends would agree: Traffic is no fun in the City of Angels. TomTom’s 2012 North American Congestion Index found Los Angeles to have the highest congestion level. But while driving in the City can be a stressful affair, it is oftentimes a good place to test drive a vehicle — so say staff members at the Transportation department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). And so they pitched an idea to Toyota, asking to pilot hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in carpool applications. Toyota agreed, providing the University with three FCHV-advanced Highlander-­based vehicles for testing.

According to David Karwaski, senior associate director for Transportation Planning, Policy & Traffic Systems, the goal of the pilot was to set up as many wins as possible. For Toyota, the program allows the automaker to “pull telematics information from the vehicles routinely so they get actual real-world use data…through arguably the most arduous commuting environment in the world.”

For UCLA, the staff wanted to “work on our carpool program and try to increase participation in carpooling. Part of the idea was to get people in carpools and have them realize that this works fine, and when they’re no longer in the Toyota, they would continue to carpool together,” Karwaski said. In return, those participating in the program received a free ride.

Lastly, the pilot would be a boon to UCLA’s reputation as a “progressive research institution,” looking to the future of transportation, Karwaski said. With the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) looking at a combustion-free Los Angeles basin, Transportation Services staff wanted to help contribute to the research in alternative-­fuel vehicles.

Finding Drivers Near Fueling Sources

Sherry Lewis, director of Fleet & Transit at UCLA, said the university fleet has long had a history in testing out new technologies, particularly with Toyota.

“We had a [Toyota] Prius in the fleet long before the general public knew what a Prius was. Our first Prius is still in the fleet today,” she said. She added that the UCLA fleet also currently operates four Camry vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), a vehicle Toyota eventually chose not to manufacture.

Choosing drivers depended on refueling station locations. UCLA Transportation staff mapped out home addresses of University staff, then drew buffer zones around those who lived near a fueling facility. They contacted those staff members to see if they wanted to participate in the program.

“We only have so many stations in the basin,” Karwaski said. The team chose to focus their two carpool groups in the South Bay, around a station in Torrance, 20 miles south of campus, near Toyota headquarters. The station there offered a higher compression fuel, resulting in a longer range per tank.

The third vehicle is used for training, demonstrations, and as a replacement for the other two in case one of the vehicles needs to be serviced, according to Matthew Hissom, senior transportation planner (and hydrogen vehicle project coordinator).

There are two types of fueling, staff explained. One is at 5,000 PSI, which provides a range of about 140 miles on the Toyota test vehicles; the other is 10,000 PSI, which provides a range of about 260 miles. And like other vehicles, fuel consumption depends on how drivers drive and what other vehicle features they’re using.

Toyota staff take drivers through a safety program for refueling, providing reading materials about the vehicles. Hydrogen fuel is currently available for free for research purposes.

Craig Scott, advanced technology vehicle manager at Toyota, said real-world testing results have been invaluable for the development team. “Tests with actual drivers, as opposed to our own test engineers, provide real-world feedback that helps us develop better retail products. We can’t anticipate all situations or all conditions, and having vehicles out in public hands gives us a richer data set,” he stated.

UCLA staff piloting the Toyota fuel-cell vehicles mainly use this hydrogen fueling station in Torrance, Calif. It opened in May 2011.
UCLA staff piloting the Toyota fuel-cell vehicles mainly use this hydrogen fueling station in Torrance, Calif. It opened in May 2011.

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