In the early hours of July 18, 2023, a shocking incident shook Golden Empire Transit in Bakersfield, California. A massive fire erupted at the premises, engulfing a hydrogen fuel cell bus and damaging a portion of the new hydrogen fueling station.
While the blaze was contained with the help of the Bakersfield Fire Department, the incident has raised concerns about the safety and viability of hydrogen as a clean fuel source for public transportation.
The incident comes at a time when Golden Empire Transit (GET) is actively transitioning to a zero-emission fleet as mandated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). According to the CARB requirement, all new public transportation vehicles in California must be zero-emission by 2040, aiming to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which currently accounts for approximately 27 percent of the country’s total emissions.
GET, in line with the state’s ambitious goal, has invested in 10 hydrogen buses and established the first hydrogen fueling station in Kern County. The move towards hydrogen-powered buses promises a cleaner and greener future for public transportation, as hydrogen fuel cells emit only water vapor and oxygen, with no harmful greenhouse gases.
However, the recent fire incident has raised questions about the safety protocols and challenges of integrating hydrogen technology into the transportation infrastructure. As investigations are underway, authorities and experts are examining the factors that led to the fire and the performance of safety mechanisms in place.
The safety measures at the fueling station proved effective, as the primary tanks of the fueling station did not ignite due to advanced safety technology. This incident highlights the significance of rigorous safety evaluations and adherence to best practices in handling hydrogen fuel.
The swift response of the Bakersfield Fire Department played a crucial role in minimizing damage and preventing injuries. The incident serves as a reminder of the need for comprehensive training and preparedness among first responders when dealing with hydrogen-related emergencies.
Despite the setback, the potential of hydrogen as a clean and sustainable fuel source remains promising. Hydrogen fuel cell buses offer long-range capabilities and fast refueling times, making them viable alternatives to conventional fossil fuel-powered buses. The incident also underscores the importance of expanding hydrogen refueling infrastructure to accommodate the growing fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
While the incident may raise concerns among the public, it is essential to approach hydrogen technology’s adoption with an understanding of the challenges and the ongoing efforts to enhance safety and efficiency. As engineers and researchers continue to innovate and improve hydrogen infrastructure, the transportation sector can look forward to a future where emissions-free buses pave the way towards a cleaner and greener environment.