California Gas Utility starts work on H2 system to fuel Coachella Valley bus fleet

Aug. 23, 2022
The H2 SilverSTARS project will produce hydrogen from RNG, test STARS' combustion-free production process and generate sufficient fuel for SunLine Transit Agency’s fleet

Utility firm Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has broken ground on a first-of-its-kind advanced hydrogen generation system at the SunLine Transit Agency site in Thousand Palms, California.

The H2 SilverSTARS project will produce hydrogen using renewable natural gas and test STARS' technology, which was developed at the Pacific Northwest National Lab. The technology uses a combustion-free process, resulting in fewer GHG emissions in the hydrogen production process as compared to the conventional steam methane reforming process.

The compact, easy-to-install system uses low-cost 12x1-inch, 3D-printed reactor disks and heat exchangers. The first STARS system will be capable of producing up to 80 kg of clean hydrogen a day – enough to fuel three of SunLine's zero-emission buses per day.

Eventually, the project is expected to help fuel SunLine's fleet of 17 hydrogen fuel cell electric buses. STARS' website says its hydrogen generator, once scaled up, can produce H2 at a cost of about $2.50 per kg. 

"For several years now, the high cost of transporting hydrogen has been the big problem with rolling out fuel cell vehicles in California," said Robert Wegeng, President of STARS Technology Corporation. "This demonstration elegantly solves the problem with a compact, mass-produced hydrogen generator that can be placed on the gas grid in close proximity to filling stations and other places where cheap hydrogen is useful. Better yet, the hydrogen can meet the new Federal "Clean Hydrogen Standard" for regional hydrogen hubs since it can be produced from renewable natural gas."

SunLine Transit Agency operates in Riverside County of southern California and moves more than 3.5 million passengers per year. The system mainly operates bus routes in the Coachella Valley region.

"This is the kind of demonstration project we love to see in California and we're excited construction has started. SoCalGas will use the knowledge gained from this project to help accelerate the adoption of clean hydrogen," said Neil Navin, SoCalGas Vice President of clean energy innovations. "Adopting clean technologies and working with SunLine and STARS will help SoCalGas and California reach our shared air quality and climate goals much faster."

The new project can play an important part in the clean energy transition in California as H2 SilverSTARS, when scaled, will have the potential to supply clean hydrogen to any location near a natural gas pipeline.