Ever since Brexit, we know the British want to get some fresh air. Now they want to drive without gas. The famous double-decker buses, well known by all tourists, had already switched to electricity in 2016. This time Alexander Dennis Ltd, the leading manufacturer of these double-decker buses, is experimenting with a hydrogen fuel cell system.
London is the latest example of the current breakthrough of hydrogen vehicles around the world. Long considered a more promising technology, but more expensive than the electric car, hydrogen seems to be catching up. Honda launched its FCX Clarity car, the first commercial hydrogen vehicle, in 2008. With Leaf, Nissan made it a worldwide success. For buses, the first experiments proved to be failures in Oslo, Milan and Aarau (Switzerland). But that was without taking into account the British manufacturer ADL (Alexander Dennis Limited).
Its weapon is the Enviro400. A bus that combines a fuel cell and hydrogen to recharge its electric battery. It has an electric power train and axle-mounted engines. Total power: 250 kW, for a bus capable of pulling 13,000kg without losing its British phlegm. The result: a bus that can carry a hundred people without rejecting anything other than… water vapour.
“Britain is well positioned for second place in the development of this technology,” says Ian Williamson, director of Air Products, a hydrogen supplier to London buses. It is true that this technology has definite advantages over conventional electric vehicles. A full charge takes but 10 minutes, and the bus has an autonomy of 18 hours and 300 kilometres.
“We can use hydrogen buses on normal lines”, explains Mike Weston of Transport for London, London’s public transport agency. From an environmental point of view, the vehicles emit only… water. They use an electric engine and produce electricity from a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, pumped into the air.
However, the production of hydrogen (by catalysis) requires energy whose production emits CO2 (except for renewable energy). In addition, the enormous volume of the hydrogen tank poses significant problems. On the London buses, the tank, placed on the roof, adds almost a metre of height. Moreover, the price remains exorbitant. Buses cost nearly 1 million euros each, which is four times the price of a traditional bus. Alexander Dennis announces that his hydrogen bus represents a savings of 35% on the energy budget.