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BRUSSELS OFFICE : +32 (0)2 895 5909

Shifting power


Mark Kammerer of Hydrogenics explains how shifting power can enable zero-emission public transportation.

The 2016 Paris climate agreement brought countries around the world together with a common goal of combatting the negative effects of climate change. Although efforts to reverse climate change will require significant adaptations to our transport infrastructures – amongst other things – the elimination of diesel buses used in public transportation has been brought to the forefront as an area where pollution mitigation can have an immediate impact.

Due to their heavy reliance on diesel fuel, buses represent a high source of carbon emissions and pollution. The good news is that there are solutions to reducing carbon emissions from buses – e.g. by converting from a diesel engine to an electric engine, powered by batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. Both battery electric and fuel cell electric buses can run with zero local emissions. Batteries can be recharged and hydrogen can be produced with clean, renewable energy such as solar or wind power. In the fuel cell, the process of combining hydrogen and oxygen gas emits only water, as opposed to the pollutants generated by burning fossil fuels.

Battery electric drivetrains are the first step

Battery electric drivetrains enable the use of clean energy to power buses. With a battery electric engine, so long as there are strategically located charging points and adequate time allocated to recharging, many bus routes can be covered. However, many routes have a high frequency and a tight schedule; therefore, the battery must be larger or otherwise the service must be periodically suspended to allow time to recharge. Routes with many hills and areas that require high air conditioning in the summer, or heating loads in the winter, tax the energy of the battery. If the fleet operator wants the flexibility of enabling the bus to use any route at any time, an additional energy source to extend the range will be needed.

Talking JIVEThe Jive Project was launched on 25 January 2017 to introduce clean, sustainable urban transport in Europe. Co-financed by the FCH JU under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation, JIVE is attempting to introduce fuel cell buses to busy urban areas on an unprecedented scale.
Launched in Cologne, Germany, JIVE also aims to empower the switch towards sustainable transportation, allowing bus operators to work without having to require subsidiaries.

Hydrogen fuel provides a clean alternative for public transportation

Along with switching to a battery electric drivetrain, switching to a clean hydrogen fuel source is a highly viable option that will have an immediate positive impact on both the environment and the public transportation operators, with all the attributes of conventional fuel, yet none of its negative impacts.

From an environmental aspect, fuel cells provide a clean alternative to transportation, enabling original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to take great strides in reducing emissions. Fuel cell electric buses have zero emissions at the tailpipe – they produce zero nitrogen, zero oxides and zero particle matter, making them suitable for regular use in urban and residential areas. As an additional bonus, they operate quietly, reducing the level of noise pollution. Fuel cell buses provide a better overall experience for bus riders, bus drivers and communities with heavy traffic and severe air pollution.

Fuel cells also help to increase operational efficiency and flexibility for the bus operators. They have the ability to travel distances of between 300-450 kilometres on a single tank of hydrogen, and require no on-route refuelling or charging infrastructure; they can drive their daily route and be refuelled quickly at the bus depot, typically in less than ten minutes. Fuel cell buses offer a seamless transition from diesel to zero emission with virtually no impact on service, range or durability.

Moving forward on the path to implementation

While the initial transition has been slow, as government and industry come to recognise the inherent advantages of fuel cell buses, we are seeing more positive growth. In 2016 the world’s first double-decker hydrogen-fuelled bus was unveiled by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has vowed to eliminate diesel buses from the streets of the UK capital. Additionally, the UK government recently committed to contributing £100m (~€110m) towards the purchase of new low-emission buses or the retrofitting of older buses with cleaner engines.

Likewise, increased demand in China is fuelled by major government support, favouring the commercial deployment of fuel cell electric buses and hydrogen infrastructure. By the end of 2017 China will have brought at least 300 fuel cell electric buses into service, with more expected in the coming years.

Also in 2017, the Joint Initiative for hydrogen Vehicles across Europe (JIVE), an EU-funded research project, was launched with the goal of increasing the number of fuel cell buses on the road by deploying more than 140 vehicles across nine cities/regions. The nine regions involved in the project are Cologne, Wuppertal and Rhein Mainz in Germany; London, Birmingham and Aberdeen in the United Kingdom; South Tyrol in Italy; Riga in Latvia; and Slagelse in Denmark.

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking’s (FCH JU) executive director Bart Biebuyck said: “This project is now the fifth project related to the deployment of fuel cell buses supported by the FCH JU, and its launch marks a significant turning point in the decarbonisation process of public transport. The FCH JU is proud of such far-reaching projects that aim at unlocking the economies of scale required for commercialisation.

“Fuel cell buses offer great advantages as they can cut emissions and noise pollution, while providing good quality public transport. Bringing these benefits directly to citizens’ day-to-day lives is one of the priorities of the FCH JU, and JIVE clearly is a stepping stone in this process.”

To continue making the path to implementation easier, there needs to be a sustained effort by industry and government to develop a framework that supports ongoing cost reductions for both fuel cell technology and the supporting hydrogen fuelling infrastructure. Decreased costs will allow manufacturers to rapidly increase the total number of buses on the road, and take another step closer to reducing the harmful effects of climate change.


Mark Kammerer

Business Development Manager

Hydrogenics GmbH


This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Government 23, which will be published in October.

Pan European Networks Ltd