London introduces hydrogen-powered double-decker buses

Mayor Khan posing in front of London’s new hydrogen buses. Photo credit: The Mayor of London’s Office.

By Anders Lorenzen

In June London’s then recently re-elected mayor Sadiq Khan announced a new fleet of hydrogen-powered buses.

Khan launched England’s first-ever hydrogen fuel cell double-decker buses, marking another major step towards making the capital’s bus fleet zero-emission and cleaning up London’s toxic air.  

The 20 new buses are the first of their kind  in England, will produce zero pollution from their exhausts and join more than 500 electric buses in the core fleet which themes are already zero-emission. The new buses are initially being introduced on route 7 between East Acton in west London and Oxford Circus in central London.

Hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen used in a fuel cell is free from harmful emissions. The only by-product is water from the chemical reaction of hydrogen with oxygen from air, a process that produces electricity to power the bus. The hydrogen for the buses is currently being produced at Air Liquide’s plant in Runcorn, harnessing waste hydrogen as a by-product from an industrial chlor-alkali plant. By 2023, the hydrogen will be even greener as it will be produced by electrolysis powered by a direct connection to an offshore wind farm.

A new state of the art fuelling station completed by Danish engineering firm Nel Hydrogen will top up each hydrogen fuel cell bus just once per day in as little as five minutes.The Mayor’s office says the use of hydrogen-powered buses, in addition to the battery electric ones, allows TfL to match the right fuel with the operational requirements of the network. Hydrogen buses store large quantities of energy, which can make them well-suited to longer routes.

London’s air pollution crisis

This move is the latest effort by Mayor Khan to clean up London’s toxic air which frequently breaches legal limits. His office says the buses will help clean up the air and improve the health of Londoners by reducing the level of harmful nitrogen oxide in the air. In addition, they say, passengers will benefit from smoother, quieter journeys due to fewer vibrations and will be able to take advantage of free-to-use USB charging points. 

Transport for London (TfL) believes this will benefit the whole country as it will pave the way for cheaper hydrogen buses across the rest of the UK, having led the UK procurement within the Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe (JIVE), to buy in bulk with other UK authorities. In total, the JIVE project seeks to deploy 139 new zero-emission fuel cell buses and associated refuelling infrastructure across five European countries and has received funding from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking.

With sustained financial support from the Government, TfL could look to accelerate its plans for a zero-emission bus fleet from 2037 to 2030 to reduce carbon emissions and address the public health emergency caused by dirty air.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, hailed the development saying “We have made real progress in London to clean up our air, but we still have a long way to go because toxic air pollution in our city is still leading to thousands of premature deaths every year and is stunting the growth of children’s lungs. As part of our world-leading ongoing efforts, I’m proud to announce England’s first hydrogen double-decker buses, which don’t produce any harmful emissions, will now be put into service. Our investment in these hydrogen buses is not only helping us to clean up London’s air but is supporting jobs and local economies across the UK. This is a great demonstration of how tackling air pollution and the climate crisis and boosting economic growth is about regions working together, investing in the very latest technology.”

TfL has since 2017 been at work to phase out one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, diesel buses as well as retrofitting older ones with cleaner engines. They say as this process has now been completed this will see harmful NOx emissions from buses fall by an average of 90 per cent. 

Neither the  Mayor’s office nor TfL have not yet given any details about how big a share of its bus fleet they want to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells to reach a zero-emission bus fleet. London’s total bus fleet is believed to be around 9,000 buses. 

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