Monday May 24, 199 - 1:37 AM
Ballard Fuel-Cell Buses Unhindered By Hindenberg
By Allan Dowd VANCOUVER (Reuters) -
Fears of the ``Hindenberg syndrome'' could hinder deployment of fuel-cell-powered
buses have evaporated, according to developers of the environmentally
friendly vehicles. Ballard Power Systems Inc. (Nasdaq:BLDP - news) and
DaimlerChrysler AG (NYSE:DAJ - news)., whose fuel-cell buses are the leaders
in the field, said Thursday that research shows wide acceptance of the
vehicles and that they could be on the commercial market sooner than they
Public horror following the explosion of the hydrogen-powered airship
Hindenberg in New Jersey in 1937, killing 36 people, ended the great age
of the airship. Fuel-cell powered buses use hydrogen as a fuel and the
developers had been worried that public concern at seeing hydrogen tanks
on top of the buses would make it difficult to get the vehicles into world
mass-transit fleets. ``We were so surprised, really. Not the mechanical
people, not the drivers, not the passengers are caring about this,'' said
Ferdinand Panik, DaimlerChrysler's senior vice-president for fuel cell
technology, told reporters after Ballard's annual meeting Thursday.
Panik, a member of Ballard's board of directors, had earlier won shareholders'
applause when he announced that commercial marketing of fuel-cell engines
for buses could begin as early as 2002, up to two years sooner than some
Fuel cells use hydrogen to make electricity through a chemical reaction
involving oxygen and a catalyst. The only byproduct is water, so they
have hailed an the environmentally friendly alternative to the internal
combustion engine. Experimental fuel-cell powered buses are being tested
in Chicago and Vancouver. They are easy to spot, with nine fuel tanks
holding compressed hydrogen in a rectangular box on their roofs. ``This
Hindenberg syndrome was something that wasn't existing,'' Panik said,
referring to research done by his company.
Ballard Chief Operating Officer Layle ``Kip'' Smith said testing of the
buses has gone better than expected in terms of mechanical issues. The
companies have said they expect fuel-cell powered buses to hit the commercial
market before fuel-cell passenger cars do, in part, because per-vehicle
costs is less of the concern in entering the mass transit market.
DaimlerChrysler hopes begin limited commercial production of fuel-cell
powered cars in 2004 or 2005. It is one of several companies involved
in a project to test fuel cell vehicles in California.
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