A hydrogen fuel cell bus was engulfed in flames while charging in California early on Tuesday, but the local bus network operator says that safety mechanisms meant the fire did not spread to primary tanks at a new hydrogen fuelling station.

“The hydrogen buses were being fuelled at the time of the fire,” Golden Empire Transit group said in a statement.

“One bus was destroyed and only the dispensing portion of the hydrogen fueling station was damaged. Explosions were heard and seen from the tanks on the bus that had just been filled, but the primary tanks of the actual fueling station did not ignite due to safety technology.“

CEO Karen King said the situation this morning could have been worse, but credited the safety mechanisms in place and the swift action of the Bakersfield Fire Department for minimising the damage. No injuries were reported. King also said it was too soon to know the cause of the fire.

The hydrogen bus destroyed in the fire, estimated to have cost $1.1 million, was one of ten hydrogen buses purchased by Golden Empire Transit as part of its transition to zero emissions fuels.

One hundred percent of new California public transport will be required to be zero-emission by 2040. Golden Empire Transit, which operates in Kern county in Southern California, has also constructed a fuelling station for the buses but did not provide an estimate the cost of fire which caused damages to parts of the station.

In the statement Golden Empire Transit also noted that transportation accounts for 27 percent of total United States’ greenhouse gas (GHG) making it the largest contributor to air pollution.

Described as the ‘other’ electric bus, hydrogen buses have been making their ways into Californian public transit systems, and more recently have arrived in Australia.

There is still some debate about the role that hydrogen will play in road transport.

Alan Finkel, Australia’s former chief scientist and one of the few owners of a hydrogen car in Australia recently told The Energy Insiders podcast that he doesn’t think the technology is likely to compete with the convenience of battery electric cars.

“The hydrogen car, it only takes three or four minutes to fill. But filling it is a 63-minute experience because there’s only one refuelling station in Melbourne, there’s only one in Victoria, there’s only a handful in Australia,” said Finkel, who added that it took him 30 minutes each way to drive to the refuelling station.

The debate is still continuing with heavy vehicles, and long road haulage. But several mining companies, including BHP, have chosen battery electric over hydrogen because of the lower costs and ease of use.

Finkel was also the author of the Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy which included a section on hydrogen training for Australian emergency services which noted there had been ‘concerted efforts’ to train emergency services in the US, including firefighters, to respond to incidents that involve hydrogen.

The California Hydrogen Business Council has argued hydrogen busses are in-part “compelling” due to their similarities to existing bus fleets. However, safety concerns are one of the reasons that people remain caution about hydrogen’s role in the transition, including most recently in the United Kingdom.

Extracted in full from: “Explosions were heard:” Hydrogen bus destroyed by fire while refuelling (thedriven.io)