St. Paul, MN, January 2019 – Middle schools in Ohio have kicked off a special program that aims to teach kids about alternative energy and get them excited about the future of zero-emission technology. Through “Fueling Our Future,” select middle schools in Canton, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio will expose students to careers in alternative energy and get the chance to ride a real fuel cell electric bus.

SARTA fuel cell bus with its original bus wrap

The fuel cell bus that Ohio teens will ride has a special past on the road to demonstration. Originally, the “EVAmerica” bus was a prototype that was built in coordination with CTE, EVAmerica, and Embedded Power Control and demonstrated at the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a part of the National Fuel Cell Bus Program (NFCBP), funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). When the project ended, Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) decided to adopt it as part of the agency’s Midwest Center of Excellence (MHCoE) in zero-emission technology.

The team CTE leads – SARTA, the MHCoE, Columbus State Community College, and the Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Cell Collaborative (RHFCC) ­– saw the opportunity to give the bus a second chance at demonstration outside of the walls of a transit agency. The then-director of the MHCoE, Jim Durand, developed a plan to use the bus for outreach to middle school students, and secured funding from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to enhance this work.

Erik Bigelow, our Director of Midwest Operations and head of the St. Paul, Minnesota office, saw this as an excellent opportunity to repurpose the bus and provide additional value to the original NFCBP project. “We were excited for SARTA to step in and take ownership of this bus, continuing its life beyond the original demonstration.”

Thus, “Fueling Our Future” was born. The program’s multi-faceted curriculum is designed to introduce seventh graders to alternative fuels and new career opportunities in the renewable energy field.

Picture courtesy of Shannon Flanagan, the-review.com

The program includes five different stations that students rotate through to learn about wind turbines, solar energy, ethanol vs. gasoline, fuel cells, and, finally, taking a ride around the parking lot on the SARTA bus. Columbus State Community College worked alongside our project team to create demonstration kits 7th and 8th grade science teachers can use inside their classroom that will also meet state learning benchmarks. All materials needed for the curriculum, including a three-hour professional development course for integrated science teachers, are available free of charge from SARTA and the RHFCC.

There are fewer than 30 fuel cell buses in the United States today. Thanks to the generosity of the FTA and Ohio EPA’s Environmental Education Fund, this cutting-edge technology will now be experienced by Ohio’s next generation of scientists, engineers, and policymakers.