Europe needs to both substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut the consumption of fossil fuels and increase the share of renewable energy.
© Fotolia, 2012
A significant contribution could be made in the area of public transport by switching the energy source away from fossil fuels towards a green source: hydrogen gas.
A number of European cities are currently pioneering the development and introduction of city buses powered by environmentally-friendly hydrogen fuel cells. The Clean Hydrogen In European Cities Project (CHIC) began in November 2010 to promote the development of hydrogen fuel cell (FCH) buses for public transport and prepare the way for the widespread use of this technology and its associated infrastructure starting in 2015.
The project which is co-financed by the European Union (EU) Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, regions and local public transport authorities, brings together vehicle manufacturers, transport operators and hydrogen infrastructure providers in Belgium, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK.
The FCH buses use hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity to drive the wheels. The buses are sometimes augmented in a hybrid fashion with batteries or a supercapacitor. The process of producing hydrogen from natural gas and steam is currently the most cost effective and reliable method and, as the industry expands, costs could be further reduced and sustainability further increased.
Under the CHIC project 26 hydrogen fuel cell powered buses are being deployed together with the necessary hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in normal city bus operations across a number of European cities. The partners in Phase 1 of the CHIC project include Aarau (Switzerland), Bolzano (Italy), London, Milan and Oslo.
In a second phase of the project, the CHIC project team together with the European Association for Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Electro-mobility in European Regions (HyER), will facilitate the uptake of the use of FCH buses in a further group of European regions and cities - the so-called CHIC Phase 2 cities - that have expressed interest in using FCH buses in their public transport fleets.
In September 2011 two hydrogen-driven fuel cell hybrid buses successfully finished a four-month test period in Germany. The 18 metre long ‘bendy’ buses named “Phileas” are now taking up regular public transport service on inner-city and regional lines around the cities of Hürth and Brühl.
The CHIC project is an essential next step towards full commercialisation of hydrogen powered fuel cell buses. CHIC aims to reduce the 'time to market' for the technology and support 'market lift off'.
Helmut Warth of EVOBUS (Daimler AG) the CHIC project coordinator commented: “The CHIC project is based on a staged introduction and build-up of FCH bus fleets and the supporting infrastructure across Europe. A phased approach will link together experienced and new cities in partnerships which will greatly facilitate the smooth introduction of the new systems now and into the future”.
“The expected results of CHIC will take the technology to the brink of commercialisation, leading in turn to very significant environmental and economic benefits for Europe and the community worldwide”, the project coordinator adds.