Thor Industries Inc. has entered into a partnership to build a prototype zero-emissions, fuel cell-powered mid-sized shuttle bus.

The RV manufacturer, which derived 27% of its fiscal 1999 year revenues from building buses, has agreed to work on the project with the International Fuel Cells Inc. (IFC) unit of United Technologies Corp. and with ISE Research.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity. Water vapor is the byproduct.

“We (Thor) will build our 30-foot E-Z Rider low-floor transit buses powered by a fuel cell hybrid drive system to sell at a price competitive with other alternative fuels,” said Thor Chairman and CEO Wade Thompson. “The key difference will be improved reliability and efficiency and absolutely no emissions.”

According to IFC, Thor will take an existing bus and put a 75-horsepower single-stack fuel cell into it. ISE will integrate the fuel cell into the drive system of the bus.

The prototype is supposed to be completed in about 12 months.

Thor has exclusive rights to use IFC’s fuel cells in the complete drive system, called ThunderPower, for all North American mid-size buses.

Commercial sales of fuel cell hybrid drive transit buses could begin in a few years, according to IFC.