Follow Us

Client Login

Subscribe to the TransTrack blog and other important transit resources.  Lets Go

TransTrack Systems

Can Transit Fleets Rely on Hydrogen as a Fuel?

As the transportation industry seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, transit agencies increasingly consider zero-emission buses (ZEBs) as a solution. One type of ZEB that has garnered attention in recent years is the hydrogen fuel cell bus. While the technology is still relatively new, it shows great promise for transit fleets looking to reduce emissions and improve efficiency.

Hydrogen Basics

What Is Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a unique element due to its lightness and colorless, odorless, and tasteless properties. It is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe and can be found in a wide range of substances, such as water and organic matter.

One of the most significant advantages of hydrogen as a fuel is its versatility in production. It can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, which is currently the most common source of hydrogen production, as well as nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power sources like solar and wind. This versatility in production makes hydrogen a highly flexible and sustainable fuel option. In addition, when hydrogen is used as a fuel, it produces only water vapor and no harmful emissions, making it an attractive option for reducing air pollution and mitigating climate change.

Where Is Hydrogen Produced?

Hydrogen is a versatile fuel that can be produced from various sources, both conventional and renewable. One of the most common methods for producing hydrogen is steam methane reforming. This process involves reacting natural gas with steam to generate hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide.

Another method for producing hydrogen is electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. This process can also use renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biomass, resulting in what's called green hydrogen.

The availability and cost-effectiveness of different production methods for hydrogen vary depending on location, energy source, and production scale. Despite these challenges, hydrogen is increasingly viewed as a promising fuel for a low-carbon economy.

How Is Hydrogen Used for Energy?

Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier with unique properties, including high energy content, clean combustion, and easy storage and transportability. Due to these characteristics, hydrogen has a wide range of applications as an energy source.

One of the most promising uses of hydrogen is in fuel cell vehicles, where it powers electric motors and produces only water and heat as byproducts. In addition, hydrogen can serve as a feedstock for various industrial processes, including refining, ammonia production, and metallurgy.

Hydrogen can be used for residential and commercial applications, such as heating and cooling buildings and backup power generation during blackouts. Hydrogen can be stored and transported as a compressed gas or in liquid form, making it a flexible energy carrier for a variety of situations.

How Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses Work?

A hydrogen fuel cell bus uses a fuel cell to power an electric motor that provides propulsion. The fuel cell converts the chemical energy from hydrogen into electrical energy and releases only water vapor as a byproduct. Refueling a hydrogen fuel cell bus takes about ten minutes, and the bus can travel up to 150-250 miles on a single tank, depending on the geographic surroundings. This range is twice as much as battery-electric buses and with a shorter refueling time, making it a more practical solution for transit agencies.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses and the ZEB Market

The ZEB market is quickly growing and aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2035 in California. Currently, hydrogen fuel cell buses are the second most common type of ZEB in the US, after electric buses. Out of the total 2,790 ZEBs deployed or planned to be deployed, only 3.1% (87 buses) are hydrogen fuel cell buses. The modest deployment of hydrogen buses can be attributed to the higher cost of procurement, lack of supporting infrastructure, and individual agency preference. However, the average price of hydrogen buses has decreased by 49% since 2010 and is expected to continue to decrease to $850,000. Hydrogen buses are also easier to scale up, as one hydrogen refueling station can handle larger volumes than a single charging station.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Case Study: Aberdeen

An excellent example of the successful deployment of hydrogen fuel cell buses is in Aberdeen, Scotland. The city replaced ten diesel buses with hydrogen fuel cell buses and built three electrolyzers for fueling. During the deployment, the buses carried 37,600 passengers per month, six days a week, with an impressive 90% availability rate. The buses were refueled over 1,600 times, and each refueling took only 5-7 minutes, indicating the efficiency of the fueling process. 

Emission Reduction and Efficiency Improvement with Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses

Hydrogen fuel cell buses are an increasingly viable option for transit fleets seeking to reduce emissions and improve efficiency. While the technology is still relatively new and deployment is modest, the decreasing cost of procurement and the ease of scaling up make hydrogen fuel cell buses an attractive option for transit agencies. If you're interested in transitioning your fleet to ZEBs, always accompany a purchase with TransTrack's ZEB module to ensure a smooth transition and optimal performance.


Subscribe and receive the FREE TransTrack quarterly whitepaper and other important transit resources directly to your inbox