How crucial is it that operators take significant steps in the coming years to change the way they fuel vehicles?
As part of our Alternative Power In-Depth Focus, Intelligent Transport asked an expert panel: How crucial is it that operators take significant steps in the coming years to change the way they fuel vehicles?
Silvano Pozzi, Director, Product Line Management, Ballard Power Systems:
As bus operators seek to meet regulations and reduce their fleet emissions, they are evaluating the implementation of zero-emission electric buses into existing transit routes designed for diesel or compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. Electrification of transportation will introduce new fuels as electrons will be required to power buses. Electricity could come either from the grid, via charging stations, or could be generated on board by a fuel cell ‘engine’ using hydrogen as fuel.
Operators are at the point now where they need to take the necessary steps to adapt their fuelling infrastructure, as some future fuelling options could be disruptive, and may involve roadside infrastructure and construction of new power substations.
Hydrogen fuel cell buses operate like conventional buses using scalable refuelling infrastructure in depots without the need for roadside infrastructure. Fuel is stored as compressed hydrogen gas in the vehicle, and can be refilled in less than 10 minutes from a dispenser – though this requires hydrogen storage infrastructure to be built on site, which requires permits and civil works.
The implementation of hydrogen fuelling infrastructure will be less disruptive for CNG bus fleet operators, as refuelling times and protocols are virtually the same, and well documented. Maintenance personnel already trained to handle CNG as a fuel for buses will find little change to their processes when transitioning to hydrogen as a fuel. It also provides the fleet operator with a simple to estimate and predictable fuel price.
Noel Dolphin, Managing Director, Furrer+Frey GB:
In the next few years cities and operators will need to drastically change the way they fuel vehicles, but I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution.
We make opportunity charging stations for battery buses, and in city centres with specific clean air zones, this is a fantastic solution. However, in other areas and routes, other fuel solutions are becoming more viable.
I also think that operators need to find solutions that don’t tie them to a single manufacturer – no one wants to make a decision now that would tie them to just one singular manufacturer for the next 10 years. The critical thing for me is flexibility: that is being flexible and understanding that there will be different optimal solutions for different routes, but also flexible in the sense of mixing solutions to maximise the grants and funding available. Here, flexibility is a range of manufacturers and not being tied in exclusively. However, the most important thing with flexibility is to find a solution that takes cognisance of and copes with a changing political landscape. With the lifespan of a bus, changing politics can have a big impact; to paraphrase an old saying, “buy in haste, repent at leisure”.