Electric Vehicles in Rural Communities
Those who live in or near large cities enjoy ready access to public and private transportation, where bus, rail, taxi and ride share options are plentiful. But for smaller communities, getting around can be a real challenge. Well, we recently visited one Texas town that has found a smart, clean solution for shrinking this big problem.
Bastrop, Texas, is located about 30 miles southeast of Austin. It covers nine square miles and is home to around 9000 people. It’s a pleasant place to live or visit, on the edge of Texas hill country with the Colorado river passing nearby; a thriving main street downtown and a relaxed vibe all around.
Typical of small towns in the area, there are no city buses or subways here. Carts, the capital area rural transportation system, offers low-cost van rides for folks to get around within the city limits, or to connect with regional transit options.
And since December of 2019, Bastrop has collaborated with the lone star clean fuels alliance and e-cabs of North America to provide a cost-free and emissions-free micro-transit ride service using GEM low-speed battery electric vehicles. The US Department of Energy funded this two-year pilot project to explore how well these low-speed EV’s could meet a rural community’s first- and last-mile transit needs.
The GEMs carry 5 passengers and can legally travel on roads with speed limits up to 45 miles per hour, though the cabs themselves top out at 25. They can sustain 3 to 4 hours of continuous duty per charge.
E-cabs operates on evenings and weekends, and covers a limited area surrounding downtown Bastrop, but there are no pre-determined routes. It’s all on-demand and on the rider’s schedule, and these things stay busy! They also offer a para-transport option with a foldaway accessibility ramp.
The system allows riders to request electric cab service through a phone call or a mobile app. The e-cab driver is alerted immediately, and pickup time is typically fifteen minutes or less.
Bastrop mayor Connie Schroeder is a frequent rider, and she knows a thing or two about riding in style!
MAYOR CONNIE SCHROEDER: It doesn’t matter if you’re in a small town or a big town, you need to be able to get around. Everybody needs to go to the post office, go to a doctor, maybe get something to eat, and that last mile can be extremely hard. It can be hard if you don’t have a vehicle, it can be hard if you’re elderly.
JOHN DAVIS: Frequently taking the place of larger conventional vehicles, the system’s electric vehicles translate into lower per-trip fuel consumption and emissions. Bastrop’s e-cabs are re-charged using electricity from the Texas grid, which relies on one of the country’s highest proportions of renewable energy sources.
Nationwide, adoption of electric vehicles has lagged in rural areas when compared to urban markets. The hope is that the electric shuttles can increase comfort and familiarity with EV technology in the community, and could lead to greater interest in electric vehicle ownership, too.
CHRIS NIELSEN: This is a good idea because it’s incredibly inexpensive to operate, it’s efficient, the people like it. We have a lot of traction, and we’ve been adopted by the community here. And we’re a part of it now, and this has happened everywhere that we’ve deployed.
JOHN DAVIS: The e-cabs are bringing new mobility options to the citizens of Bastrop, and showing that even a small town can set a big example for clean transportation.
MAYOR CONNIE SCHROEDER: They take care of the environment, they’re convenient, they’re easy, and there isn’t anything better than waving to your friends when you’re in a free e-cab ride.
H2 the Rescue
How Hydrogen Can Help First Responders
Mounting an effective response to natural disasters or emergency situations often comes down to having the right vehicles and equipment on standby. This week we look at a prototype rescue truck that relies on clean power technology to let first responders hit the ground running.
Efficient use of time and resources in the first hours after a hurricane, flood, fire, or winter storm, especially in remote areas, is critical for setting up a successful recovery operation.
H2@Rescue is a hydrogen fuel cell/battery hybrid truck that can mobilize to disaster sites within a 180-mile range, and then provide power, heating and cooling, and even create water on-site for up to 72 hours before refueling.
The project is a collaboration between several federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, the Army Corps of Engineers and private sector partners. We caught up with the team at Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Lab, where functionality testing was underway.
NICHOLAS JOSEFIK: “The H2@Rescue gives us an opportunity to bring an emergency vehicle into a situation where there is no power or water, and get some eyes on the situation. We can immediately have a command center, we can immediately be producing power– 25 kilowatts worth of power– and we can be generating water on site that could be used.”
H2@Rescue is a Class 7 heavy duty truck weighing approximately 33,000 pounds.The box body is climate controlled and can act as a mobile command center or warming/cooling shelter during an emergency. The truck carries 176 kilograms of hydrogen onboard, in high-pressure tanks. Hydrogen fuel has an energy density about three times that of gas or diesel, and the electric drivetrain used in this truck is more efficient than a similar internal combustion engine.
Conversion of the Kenworth chassis from diesel to hydrogen power was spearheaded by Accelera by Cummins, a new subsidiary of the traditionally diesel-driven engine maker, that will focus on zero-emissions power solutions for the future.
PRATEEK VAISH: “It has a fuel cell, which produces 90 kilowatts at max. There’s a high-voltage battery, which is 155 kilowatt-hours, and there is a traction motor, which is 250. So, in a nutshell, how this vehicle operates is: The fuel cell charges the battery, and the battery provides power to the traction– traction motor. But if the battery is low on charge, the fuel cell can also provide power to the traction motor.”
The transport and fueling infrastructure for hydrogen still lags behind conventional fuels in terms of cost and number of locations due to the need for pressurized tanks and other factors, but that gap could be closed in the future, since hydrogen can be produced and stored locally, potentially right at a fueling site.
Accelera is already a global leader in fuel cell applications with more than 2,000 fuel cells and 600 electrolyzers – the machines that separate hydrogen from water — already in use.
Lessons learned here will help them develop zero-emission power solutions for other vocational vehicles, like electric utility trucks, transit buses, delivery vehicles and long-haul trucks.
PRATEEK VAISH: “And we’re doing a lot of work towards destination zero, which is we’re trying to decarbonize the whole Cummins portfolio by 2050, so this is a great step in that direction.”
H2@Rescue passed the NREL testing with flying colors, proving that hydrogen power can fulfill the critical needs of first responders in these extraordinary situations, and showing one pathway to a zero-emission future for vehicles of all sizes.