Here are the challenges the hydrogen bus will have to face

challenges hydrogen bus

Here are the challenges the hydrogen bus will have to face

As a partner of the ZEB conference, held as part of the Busworld show, Hydrogen Today listened to and met with public transport players. There is indeed a demand for hydrogen, which has its advantages, but the price has to come down quickly if the molecule does not wish to lose out to the battery.

If you listen to Symbio, hydrogen has it all. Alexandre Papillon explained that it only takes 15 minutes to fill up, barely more than diesel, and much less than it takes to charge a battery (120 to 240 minutes). What’s more, the range is greater (350 to 500 km), while enabling buses to carry more passengers. This expert also pointed out that hydrogen is more resilient to the vagaries of the climate, maintaining its range in extreme cold conditions, for example (unlike batteries). Besides, the infrastructure is also easier to set up at the depot. Symbio took the opportunity to highlight its experience (6 million km travelled, bus applications with Safra and other modes of transport). Symbio’s latest product is the Stackpack fuel cell, available in 75 and 150 kW versions for use in urban transport, which can be seen on its stand.

Clearly, bus manufacturers have opted for fuel cells, which allow them to comply with legislation and operate in zero-emission mode. This is not the case with the hydrogen combustion engine, and none of the buses exhibited at Busworld were equipped with one.

Parity with electric: not before 2030

As we wrote earlier, hydrogen buses were all over this year’s show. This is a strong signal from the industry. However, these vehicles are very much a minority compared with the electric buses that can be seen absolutely everywhere. One French public transport operator told us that he was leaning towards electrics more, because the technology is mature and, above all, cheaper. Vanessa Roderer from Sphera highlighted this point in her presentation. Hydrogen-powered buses, and this is no scoop, cost more and are not yet competitive because of the high price of hydrogen.

But that doesn’t mean the battle is lost, because there are applications where hydrogen is more appropriate (city topography, length of lines). As for Symbio, it argues that fuel cell technology will reach parity with batteries by 2030.

The role of subsidies

To narrow the gap, manufacturers need support. This, of course, involves transport operators. The representative of CaetanoBus, Nuno Lago de Carvalho, has sent out a signal by asking for a commitment on volumes. This is also the message from Hycap, a British investment fund specialising in decarbonisation, particularly hydrogen. Other models can also be put in place. For example, the municipality of Konin in Poland hires out its hydrogen bus (the only one in the country). A turnkey solution that includes the bus, maintenance and fuel could also be a solution. This is what some players in the hydrogen truck market are offering.

Fortunately, subsidies are available to help with deployment. These are granted at European level and sometimes at national or local level. In California, as we explained in a previous article, the HVIP scheme is a powerful lever.

The power of China

Getting back to electric buses, things are starting to look up. But there is one reality: it’s cheaper when it comes from China. As it is the case in the car industry, manufacturers in the Middle Kingdom are producing large volumes (thanks to their huge domestic market) and are managing to cut costs. This is perhaps what will happen with hydrogen as well. The ZEB conference was an opportunity to listen to Audrey Ma from Refire. This company has already helped to deploy nearly 1,200 buses that have travelled 114 million km. The technology was launched at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Refire works with manufacturers, supplying them with fuel cells. The company also produces electrolysers and even generators that can be used to power electric buses when there is no connection to the grid.

The other challenge is to bring down the price of hydrogen. This is a factor pointed out by several speakers, including HyCologne, a group that has been building stations since 2010.

Do you want to learn more about the hydrogen bus and the challenges it will face? Then our latest 2 articles on these subjects should interest you. You can read about the hydrogen bus here and about some of its challenges there

Article written by Laurent Meillaud and translated by Logan King 

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About the author

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Logan King

After an unusual career (3 years in the French army followed by a 3-year degree in Applied Foreign Languages), it was my passion for environmental issues that finally caught up with me and led me to join Seiya Consulting and H2 Today in June 2022. First as an end-of-study internship, then as Marketing & Communication Manager and translator at Hydrogen Today.

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