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Birmingham announces hydrogen bus pilot

The city council has bought 20 new hydrogen double-decker buses as part of its Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot to kick-start the hydrogen market as a viable zero-emission fuel.

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A mock-up of the hydrogen bus. Image: National Express
A mock-up of the hydrogen bus. Image: National Express

Birmingham City Council has bought 20 new hydrogen double-decker buses as part of its Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot.

 

Made by Wrightbus, they are the world’s first zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell double deckers and are scheduled to be introduced in the UK city with National Express West Midlands from April 2021.

 

Next generation transportation

 

The pilot aims to be the catalyst for the next generation of hydrogen buses, hydrogen production and re-fuelling infrastructure development. The council has also collaborated with hydrogen specialist ITM, which will be producing and dispensing the hydrogen fuel from a new re-fuelling hub at Tyseley Energy Park.

 

The hydrogen buses consume four times less fuel in comparison to standard diesel buses, covering 300 miles on a single tank and with the ability to refuel within 7-10 minutes. They emit water vapour, meaning no carbon dioxide or other harmful gases are being pumped in to the air.

 

Hailed as another solution to tackling the city’s poor air quality and a key step towards achieving the council’s net zero carbon target, each bus is expected to save up to 79.3 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per annum.

“It has taken us two years to get to a point where we can ensure commercial viability for this type of fuel cell technology and is great news for our city and the rest of the region”

“Fuel cell buses offer a practical solution for cities to decarbonise public transport and immediately improve air quality,” said councillor Waseem Zaffar, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for transport and environment. “It has taken us two years to get to a point where we can ensure commercial viability for this type of fuel cell technology and is great news for our city and the rest of the region.

 

“This pilot is a significant step towards our net zero carbon target and will provide Birmingham with a leading role in informing debate on supportive policies for zero emission public transport at a local and national level.”

 

Bus operation

 

The buses are being manufactured by Wrightbus, which is also supplying vehicles to Aberdeen and London. They will be operated in Birmingham by National Express, with an ambition to run them on the new Sprint route when it opens, which will be the first uninterrupted cross-city route, connecting Walsall town centre to Birmingham Airport and Solihull.

 

“We have an opportunity with hydrogen-powered transport to make a huge difference to air quality,” said Jo Bamford, owner and chairman of Wrightbus.“We’re incredibly proud that these buses hold the title of being the world’s first zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell double deckers, and we’re delighted that Birmingham City Council has recognised the benefits that this technology can bring to the city.

 

“But this fleet of buses represents much more than Birmingham striving to reach a clean air, zero-carbon future. It represents the start of what could be a world-leading UK hydrogen economy which will bring with it multi-million-pound investments and tens of thousands of jobs.”

 

National Express West Midlands announced earlier this year that its entire bus fleet will be zero-emission by 2030 and it is already operating 29 fully electric buses in Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry.

 

Tom Stables, National Express UK managing director, reckons that by operating hydrogen double-deckers in service in Birmingham, the company will learn which routes lend themselves to hydrogen buses and what the mix of vehicles in our fleet should be going forward.

“It represents the start of what could be a world-leading UK hydrogen economy which will bring with it multi-million-pound investments and tens of thousands of jobs”

He added: “These new buses will be fitted out in our top-spec Platinum range, so customers will also benefit from free wi-fi, USB chargers and extra legroom. Because there is no engine, they are super-quiet. And of course, all that comes out of the exhaust is water vapour."

 

The development will see the start of fuel cell technology supply chains within the region and will help to support a brand-new service and maintenance apprenticeship programme.

 

It has been funded through Olev (Office for Low Emission Vehicles), GBSLEP (Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership), Birmingham City Council and the Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe (Jive) project funding from the FCH JU (European Funding from the Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking). The FCH JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Hydrogen Europe and Hydrogen Europe Research.

 

Once launched, the Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot will be monitored and reviewed to analyse and ensure the ongoing commercial and operational viability of hydrogen buses, to enable a continued roll-out of hydrogen fuel cell technology within bus fleets, as part of the city’s commitment to the environment and cleaner air.

 

Last week, trials of the first ever hydrogen-powered train on a UK mainline took place in the Midlands. The trials of the train, known as HydroFlex, follow two years’ development work and more than £1m of investment by both rolling stock solutions provider Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham.

 

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