Montgomery County wins $15M for first East Coast hydrogen electric bus project


The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) has been awarded a nearly $15 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) of the United States Department of Transportation for the purchase of 13 new hydrogen fuel cell buses and the construction of a green hydrogen fueling station at the David F. Bone Equipment Maintenance Transit Operations Center in Gaithersburg.

The initiative will be the first application of green hydrogen in public transportation on the East Coast.

The award from the FTA’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program makes the County a leader in adopting this environmentally friendly technology.

The grant will permit the replacement of thirteen diesel-powered buses in the County’s Ride program. Buses powered by hydrogen-electric propulsion with zero emissions. The initiative advances the County’s objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. It cuts annual emissions by 640 tons while assuring the sustainability and dependability of bus service.

“This is the first project of its kind on the East Coast and drives forward several of our priorities, including converting our bus fleets to clean energy, reducing harmful emissions and improving our transit system—all in alignment with our ambitious climate goals,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “I’m pleased that the Federal Transit Administration selected our project for this competitive award and I want to thank the Maryland Delegation for supporting the effort.”  

By creating hydrogen locally using zero-emission electrolysis, the County avoids the consequences of conventional hydrogen production utilizing fossil fuels. The zero-emission buses power their electric motors with hydrogen and exhaust only water through their tailpipes.

The combination of the new fuel cell buses and the existing and anticipated battery-electric buses in the Ride On fleet will allow MCDOT to deliver clean, sustainable, and dependable bus transportation.

In March 2022, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) made approximately $1.1 billion in grants available to jurisdictions across the nation for the modernization of bus fleets and the purchase or lease of low- or no-emission vehicles that use advanced technologies to improve air quality and combat climate change. FTA received 530 bids for qualified projects totaling approximately $7.72 billion.

These are the first competitive grant awards made by the FTA under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. The programs support the mission of the Biden-Harris Administration to develop the nation’s transportation infrastructure, generate and preserve well-paying employment, and combat climate change.

“With today’s awards, we are helping communities across America—in cities, suburbs and rural areas alike—purchase more than 1,800 new buses, and most of them are zero-emission,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this announcement means more good jobs for people across the country, cleaner air in our communities and more affordable and reliable options to help people get to where they need to go.”

The FTA grant covers 57% of the overall $28.6 million cost of the project in Montgomery County. The County will contribute the appropriate match from its capital budget for bus purchases.

The MCDOT remains committed to transitioning to a zero-emissions fleet. In September 2017, MCDOT was awarded a $1.75 million FTA grant for the acquisition of four electric buses and charging stations. These buses are currently operating around Silver Spring. Another FTA grant awarded MCDOT more than $4 million to replace 10 diesel buses with new electric versions. Later this year, these buses will enter operation.

“We are consistently seeking and applying for grants to further the County’s transportation system,” said MCDOT Director Chris Conklin. “These hydrogen buses are a key element in reaching our zero-emissions goal. They have a longer service period than electric buses to accommodate longer routes in our system and are faster to refuel. Our track record of innovation and sustainability makes us well-positioned to adopt this technology successfully.” 

Nedim Husomanovic

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