Cover Story: Next generation transportation?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Gas prices on the rise again.  The cost of fuel just part of the reason people want to go green.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson found out Charlotte may be on the road on the road to a green economy.. we're talking jobs, and clean fuel.

We found an entrepreneur wants to come to the area and says he can do both.. build a bus that does not pollute and bring hundreds of jobs.

Dale Hill may be sitting on a gold mine.

An entrepreneur for 35 years from Golden, Colorado.. he's scouting out locations in the Charlotte area with hopes of building the next generation of buses.

"We are at the right place at the right time at the right stage of maturity for our technology," he says.

Hill is in town attending the Fifth International Hydrail Conference at UNC Charlotte.  Bringing together participants from all over the world interested in pursuing "hydrail" a term that refers to hydrogen-powered trains.

The same can be used to run buses which is what Hill is working on.

He told us it's called fuel-cell technology.  "A fuel cell is a black box that you put hydrogen in one end then electricity and water vapor come out the other end.. what's inside is witchcraft... ha.. "

He may be laughing all the way to the bank.  More money is flowing from the new Obama administration in a serious commitment to the green economy, getting off foreign oil, reducing our carbon footprint and creating jobs.

"They're trying to create jobs through clean energy. We're building clean energy vehicles and we're building a company."

Hill's company has designed and built a fuel cell hybrid power bus.. (see the big green H2 on the side-- which stands for hydrogen.)

It's battery powered (just like a golf cart). When it needs juice-- can pull up to this charging stand to be refueled.  Or if there's not time for that run off the hydrogen-fuel cells inside.  Either way it's plugged in at night.  No emissions either way.

It's cheaper to build that strictly-hydrogen powered buses, which cost about $3 million.  Hill's bus sells for about half that $1.7 million.  Quite a bit over the price of a normal diesel bus ($328,000) but Hill says as more are made... the price will come down.

Proterra.. Hill's Colorado-based company is considering manufacturing sites in the southeast to be closer to the country's population centers.

Organizers of today's hydrail conference also want it here.. hoping the same hydrogen fuel-cell technology might be utilized in a street-car project Charlotte wants to build in the next decade.

"It's not something that's two years out.. it's something that's being built right now," he says.

Now here's the kicker.. plug in the bus to recharge the batteries at night when the price of power is cheaper and what you're paying in electricity is the equivalent of 35-cents a gallon diesel.

Hill has commercial orders to sell $15-20 million worth of buses.

The company could employ as many as 500 workers.  Hill says he will make a choice on a location within six months.