It must be said that a nice slice of buses that are still in service today actually dates back to projects developed before the battery-electric frenzy that led to a massive abandonment of fuel cell bus projects (to name but one example: Mercedes). Projects that are currently being resumed with a refreshed perspective: some ten years ago, fuel cell technology was promoted as a solution for urban buses, while nowadays there is general agreement on FCVs as a future alternative to diesel for medium and long-range travel, from suburban routes to long distance transport.
According to UITP forecasts, a minimum of 22.5% of all new buses ordered in 2021 across Europe will have to be zero-emission to comply with the legislation.
All the fuel cell buses today operating in Europe were purchased under projects co-funded by Europe itself. Over 200 hydrogen buses have been ordered through the EU-backed JIVE and JIVE 2 projects, the main European projects on this technology. The announcement came in October 2020 from the Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe project, co- financed by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU). What is more, the first 50 buses are now in operation.
Eleven European cities and regions – Aberdeen (UK), Auxerre (FR), Barcelona (ES), Birmingham (UK), Emmen (NL), Groningen (NL), London (UK), South Holland (NL), South Tyrol (IT), Toulouse (FR), and Wiesbaden (DE) – will join locations already operating hydrogen-powered buses through JIVE by the end of 2021.
According to Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the FCH JU, «360 hydrogen buses should be on the road in 2021 in the framework of JIVE 1 and JIVE 2 projects. And costs? The first hydrogen bus in 2010 had a price of 1.8 million euros. Today, the H2Bus Consortium has set the goal of reducing that figure to 650,000 euros» he told in an interview with Sustainable Bus.
According to BloombergNEF EVO2020 report, «FCVs achieve higher adoption rates in commercial vehicles and buses». As of late 2020, mentioning what Aleksandra O’Donovan, Head of Electrified Transport at BloombergNEF, told us in an interview published on Sustainable Bus magazine #2, there were «about 4,250 fuel cell buses on the road, a fraction of the global bus fleet (1.5 million units). We expect to see uptake of fuel cell buses over the next 20 years in China, South Korea and Japan. China and South Korea in particular are now promoting fuel cell technology as the countries attempt to build a new industrial value chain around it. However, due to the economic advantage and advanced adoption rates of e-buses over fuel-cell buses, we believe the latter to play a complimentary role to e-buses, especially for hard to electrify routes».
After all, China always proves to be ahead when it comes to the transition to zero emission buses. The city of Nanjing, for instance, is planning to switch the battery-electric bus fleet (that amounts to no less than 7,000 vehicles) to hydrogen.
As of December 2020, Van Hool fuel cell buses have travelled for 10 millions kilometres. 141 vehicles had been sold until end 2020 (delivered or on order). What is more, Van Hool has got significant follow-up orders from customer such as Qbuzz in Groeningen, that bought 2 vehicles in 2017 and has ordered 30 units more in 2020, and RVK Cologne, which is adding 35 fuel cell buses to the existing two.
2019 has been a significant year for the Belgian manufacturer, with regards to hydrogen bus activities: the new A330 FC hydrogen bus and the innovative Van Hool Exqui.City 18 FC bus have been launched. The latter debuted in December 2019 in Pau, south of France. It stands out for being the world’s first hydrogen-powered BRT system. Eight Van Hool Exqui.City FC 18-meter hydrogen buses serve 14 stations along a six kilometre long dedicated BRT lane with priority at crossroads.
Here’s the position of Van Hool’s CEO Filip Van Hool with regards to commercial viability of fuel cell solutions: «Hydrogen buses are already competitive when you compare them with battery buses. In many cities there have been tests on battery buses in these years, and the conclusion very often is that the battery electric bus is good inside the city because it has limited range. When operators need more range, there are some problems. It is impossible to replace one diesel bus with one battery electric bus: you need more battery electric buses, because of longer charging times and limitation in range. I think battery buses and hydrogen buses will coexist. If the operator doesn’t want to double the number of vehicles and needs longer range the best application is hydrogen. But we don’t believe only on hydrogen: we have also battery buses in portfolio. Today is necessary to have everything. You know why?»
In 2019, taking the opportunity of the UITP Global Public Transport Summit, Polish manufacturer Solaris Bus & Coach launched its first fuel cell bus Solaris Urbino 12 hydrogen.
The hydrogen version of the Urbino is basically structured as its battery-electric counterpart, hence made of stainless steel but sporting roof-mounted hydrogen tanks as its distinctive feature. The traction system is unchanged. Batteries are smaller than on the Urbino Electric: the bus ordered by SASA will be fitted with 30 kWh of High Power, the type designed for quick charging, by virtue of its high maximum charging power. The beating heart of the hydrogen bus is the fuel cell FCmove-HD 70 kW stack by Ballard Power Systems, the main global player providing fuel cells to heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Ballard can boast collaborations with Van Hool and VDL, and with the British bus builder Wrightbus.
Italian operator SASA Bolzano has been the first to place an order for the vehicle, commissioning 12 units. These deliveries will be performed in 2021, whereas the first of the ordered buses will make it to Italy before the end of this year.
It is worth mentioning that SASA has already carried out an experiment with hydrogen buses, namely five Mercedes Citaro fuel cell buses, as part of the EU-funded CHIC (Clean Hydrogen in European Cities) project. The vehicles are still in operation.
Solaris has not been the only bus manufacturer to choose the year 2019 to unveil its first fuel cell bus project. Portuguese Caetano debuted on the fuel cell bus stage in October 2019 at Busworld with its H2.City Gold, shortly after Solaris had taken advantage of June’s UITP Global Public Transport Summit to plant a flag in the segment, too. The Caetano has a major string to its bow: its exclusive partnership with Toyota. The Portuguese bus builder will be the first to use the Japanese colossus’ fuel cells.
Caetano fuel cell bus H2.City Gold is also the only model shorter than 12 m. While Solaris reserves hydrogen for its 12 m and Van Hool already has the 12 m and 18 m on the range, Caetano offers a 10.7 m variant. Though matching the high costs of hydrogen technology to a low passenger capacity model may look like a gamble, this version has the merit of filling a gap in the market.
The cooperation with Toyota has been extended in late 2020, when it was announced a strategic alliance: Toyota Europe has joined forces with CaetanoBus and Finlog in an effort dedicated to the development and production of fuel buses in Europe.
With regards to the size, things may change soon: Rampini is expected to release an eight-meter battery-electric bus with fuel cell range extender at Busworld 2021, according to the interview we had with general manager Fabio Magnoni. «After all, an eight-metre hydrogen-powered E80 doesn’t exist anywhere. And it is a technology that we can of course implement on the six-metre Rampini E60, too», he said.
Still in 2019, the French manufacturer Safra launched a French-made fuel cell bus made in cooperation with Michelin’s subsidiary Symbio (the hydrogen’ specialist in Michelin group). The bus Safra Businova H2 features, according to the manufacturer, a range of 300 km available after 30 minutes’ charging time. The first units (6 in total) have been delivered to Artois-Gohelle, and further five units are headed to Auxerre.
The fuel cell bus from Safra features a bi-modular chassis and a free-standing structure. Safra and Symbio opted for a smart hybrid system, integrating a 30kW fuel cell module (model H2Motiv) and a 132kWh battery pack (a “mid-power” unit). This means that the bus carries less hydrogen than a “Full Power” solution (which uses a small battery and a large cell). For instance, the Solaris Urbino 12 hydrogen has a 29 kWh battery.
2020 has been a record year with regards to fuel cell bus orders.
Cologne and Wuppertal, in Germany, are leading the way in the country: 15 hydrogen buses from Solaris have been ordered in Cologne and ten further units headed to Wuppertal. Therefore, the affiliated transport company of the transport association Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr are to get a total of 25 hydrogen-fuelled Solaris vehicles. The two public transport companies had also previously ordered together a fleet of 40 Van Hool A330 FC fuel cell buses (with first deliveries in Wuppertal in late 2019).
A small order for Solaris came from Sweden, where Transdev will roll out two fuel cell buses in the city of Sandviken. They’ll be the first hydrogen buses to be operated on the Swedish public transport system.
Much attention was gathered by TMB Barcelona procurement for 8 fuel cell buses, issued in summer 2020. TMB’s roadmap addressed at the decarbonization of Barcelona’s bus fleet has the goal to replace all pure diesel buses by 2024, except minibuses. In September 2020 the contract was awarded to CaetanoBus. Concerning the H2.City Gold, a few units are headed to Germany, in Niebüll and Bielefeld.
The German strategy on hydrogen launched in 2020 got the appreciation of the national transport association VDV, that consider hydrogen buses a feasible alternative for public transport services on long routes. The VDV pointed out that the industry is facing with a big challenge: the number of manufacturers of hydrogen-powered buses is still very smalland many system components are not yet fully developed. Furthermore, regular-service buses with alternative drive systems are still comparatively expensive to purchase.
What is very interesting in TMB Barcelona’s tender mentioned above is that three bids were submitted: beyond CaetanoBus and Solaris, an offer was presented by Hyzon Motors Europe B.V. / Holthausen Clean Technology B.V., the joint venture established by the new player Hyzon Motors in the European market.
Hyzon Motors has been officially launched in mid-March 2020, and follows the experience developed from Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies. Announced as a company specialized in hydrogen heavy-duty vehicles based in New York State, Hyzon said that series production of its vehicles (trucks and buses) is to begin late this year. On April 4th 2020 Hyzon Motors’ stated on Linkedin that «Hyzon Motors Inc. announces that 1,000 units 40FT/12M fuel cell bus MOU (Memorandum of Understaing) was signed with a client under confidentiality. Target to deliver the first 50 units in about 12 months after formal contract».
In an interview we had with Hyzon Motors’ CEO Craig Knight in November 2020, he told us that «we are looking also at the opportunity to work with European bus builders in order to take part in hydrogen bus tenders. We don’t make chassis and full vehicles: we are focused on fuel cell powertrains and hydrogen systems, so it’s important for us to put partnerships in place. We want to be more active in Europe. We will move to a larger facility in 2021 that will enable series production. We plan to become a lot more aggressive in 2021 in terms of participation in tenders and we will be working on a vehicle range for the European market with our fuel cell technology».
A metaphorical award for the most original hydrogen bus layout to date goes to the VDL-made fuel cell buses deployed in the Netherlands by Connexxion starting in summer 2020. The vehicles are realized adding a trailer (housing the fuel cell technology) to the bus, that actually results in a battery-electric bus with fuel cell range extender.
The range extender system has been developed by Bosch Engineering GmbH together with VDL Enabling Transport Solutions within the scope of EU-funded GiantLeap project. Fuel cell stacks are provided by Ballard Power Systems. The vehicles operate between Rotterdam and the Isle of Goeree Overflakkee.
FlixBus announced in late 2019 that the group is working to prepare the introduction of hydrogen buses in its long distance bus network. A collaboration between the green and orange colored brand and Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, aimed at studying this possibility, has been launched.
In the future, the partnership will be enriched by the contribution of a bus manufacturer. FlixBus and Freudenberg, they announce, are currently holding talks to finalize project parameters. According to the information made public so far, a representative bus fleet of 30 Flixbus fuel cell buses is expected to be equipped with a hybrid powertrain (that combines fuel cell module with battery packs) to validate system performance. The two companies are also aiming for public funding within the framework of the German “National Innovation Program Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology” (NIP).
May 2020, an ambitious project on fuel cell buses saw the light in Australia. 100 hydrogen buses on Australian roads. It’s the target, at least for Phase 1, of the H2OzBus Project, which has the goal of exploring delivery of innovative and sustainable transport solutions in the country.
Public transport operator Transit Systems group has announced it is joining strategic partners Ballard Power Systems, BOC Limited, Palisade Investment Partners and ITM Power in the project group. The partners have just signed a memorandum of understanding as a further step in evaluating and demonstrating the concept of hydrogen fuel cell electric buses for use in public bus transport in Australia.
In the US, an hydrogen bus fleet began operations in early February 2020 operation with the livery of Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in Santa Ana, California. The vehicles, model New Flyer Xcelsior CHARGE H2, were delivered following the order signed in early 2018. The vehicle was announced to have completed Altoona Test in March 2019.
In addition to launching the hydrogen bus fleet, OCTA also debuted the largest hydrogen fueling station in the nationfor public transportation, showcasing its $22.6 million investment in zero-emission transit.
Dan Raudebaugh, Executive Director for the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), told Sustainable Bus in an interview made in October 2020: «I think fuel cell buses will play a significant role in transit over the next 10 to 20 years. The early market deployments are being dominated by battery electric buses because battery electric buses are much simpler and more cost effective to deploy in small numbers. I think fuel cells and hydrogen will start to shine more with larger scale deployments. Converting five to 20 buses is pretty straightforward, and battery electric buses have shown to be a clear winner in this scenario. Transit agencies can usually find space for charging infrastructure in their depot, and have enough shorter blocks for battery electric buses. Fuel cells become very competitive when you look at converting 50 to 100 buses, especially if you deploy them all from the same bus yard. Fuel cells hold the promise of supporting those longer blocks and can be very price competitive in numbers of 50 or more».
2021 is going to be the year of the debut on the road of the Mercedes eCitaro REX. A name that identifies the eCitaro with fuel cell range extender, that the German operator SWEG intends to use in regular service in southern Baden (Germany) from 2022: the first order signed so far. The bus will be tested in Hamburg in 2021.
The range extender is a further step on the roadmap of improvements of the Mannheim-built battery-electric bus.The fuel cell range extender will be the distinguishing feature of the eCitaro REX. There won’t, in fact, any hydrogen-powered eCitaro, according to the company statements so far (although Mercedes developed strong experience some years ago with hydrogen buses, with some units still in operation). But the battery-bus will be offered in a version equipped with fuel cell range extender.
This increases the range once again and allow the eCitaro, Daimler points out, to finally replace conventionally powered city buses seamlessly, even when very high demands are made on range. State range is 400 km.
Looking at the long term, in 2039 Daimler Trucks & Buses plans it will be selling only battery-electric and hydrogen powered buses and trucks, at least in the main markets of Europe, North America and Japan.
January 21st, 2021
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