NJDOT awards first contract
for use of fuel cell technology
New Jersey, the first state to invent and use concrete safety barriers, cloverleaf interchanges, break-away sign supports, and low level bridge lighting announces another transportation first: the awarding of a contract for the world’s first commercial use of fuel cell power in a highway Variable Message (VM) sign.
The $748,800 contract was awarded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation to a New Jersey-based firm, H-Power of Belleville. Sixty-five existing solar-powered VM signs will be outfitted with the fuel cells as a backup power source.
"This milestone is important for several reasons," said Governor Christie Whitman. "It demonstrates New Jersey’s continuing leadership in advancing new technology exportable to domestic and foreign markets, and it utilizes a system that we believe will be a major new power source -- the fuel cell."
"The fuel cell is the same source used to supply power to all NASA space vehicles since the Apollo program," said Commissioner John J. Haley, Jr. "The by-products of fuel cells are heat and water, making it the cleanest and most efficient energy producing technology known to mankind."
"These cells will give us the back up power we need for our VM signs without the pollution," Haley said. "The cells are clean, quiet and reliable."
H-Power Chief Executive Officer H. Frank Gibbard said, "This revolutionary product places New Jersey well ahead of the rest of the country in acquiring cutting-edge, pollution-free power."
Staff from NJDOT’s offices of Transportation Technology and Traffic Operations worked together to develop a fuel cell application in VM signs. A prototype was built and successfully tested in 1997. The fuels cells will be installed on VM signs this spring.
VM signs play a vital role in traffic management and can be programmed remotely via cell phone. However, the solar panels on the VM signs depend on a continuous supply of sunlight. This hampers DOT’s ability to place them in certain locations with minimal or no light, and leads to outages when sunlight is not present. Retrofitting the VM signs was the solution.
The fuel cell converts hydrogen, the earth’s most abundant element, into electricity. Unlike an internal combustion engine that emits pollution, fuel cell by-products are heat and water. Recent breakthroughs in fuel cell materials and automated production by H Power Corporation have made fuel cells smaller, more powerful and more affordable. Major automakers are developing fuel cell power sources for near term electric vehicle use.