The COMET transit system offers rides to Midlands residents and USC students. (Photos by Chris Newman/Carolina News and Reporter)

Columbia is catching up with other cities to help keep the Earth clean.

The two hydrogen-powered buses the city is adding to its COMET fleet are hitting the road in early 2024, Chief Operating Officer LeRoy Deschamps said.

The transit system announced in 2021 that it received a grant to purchase electric and hydrogen powered buses. 

The original date expected for the buses to arrive was at the end of 2023. But the buses won’t be on the road until early 2024.

Transit officials will measure the efficiency and emissions of hydrogen use over time. 

COMET is working on its final phase for the buses — infrastructure for a hydrogen fueling station, Deschamps said.

The city has a defunct hydrogen fueling station near Huger Street. 

Last year, the city of Columbia partnered with imaGEN, formerly known as Trulite, to develop a portable fuel cell system and to put the station back in working order, the city’s public relations office said in an email.

A refueling station will be ready for the buses in early 2024, Deschamps said.

Hydrogen is rising in popularity as a fuel source for personal and public transportation.

The majority of hydrogen refueling centers are on the west coast in California, according to the U.S. Department of EnergyThere are only two stations on the Eastern Seaboard, both of which are in Canada. 

The push for electric and hydrogen vehicles comes from concern about air pollution from vehicle exhausts, said Laura Renwick, public information director for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Idle, gas-powered vehicles emit harmful pollutants that are reduced with the use of electric and hydrogen vehicles, Renwick said.

The city’s new buses will work toward lowering the amount of pollutants leaked into the atmosphere.

The transit system will have more information on the hydrogen buses in the new year, Deschamps said.

This hydrogen pump at the city of Columbia hydrogen fuel station operates the same as a gas pump.

The city of Columbia’s hydrogen refueling station is still unused a year after imaGEN announced its partnership with the city.

The loop in front of the hydrogen pump has large spaces suitable for buses.