London bus passing the Houses of Parliament

Hydrogen double-decker buses launched onto London’s roads

Image credit: Christopher Burns | Unsplash

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, launched England’s first hydrogen double-deckers today to help reduce London’s carbon footprint and tackle toxic air in the capital.

London's iconic red buses have gone green after England's first hydrogen double-decker buses - built by UK firm Wrightbus - were launched onto the capital's streets today.

The new fleet will be the second in the UK, after Wrightbus launched its world-first hydrogen double-deckers in Aberdeen, Scotland, in January this year. The vehicles mark another step towards making London's bus fleet zero-emission and cleaning up London’s toxic air.

The 20 new environmentally friendly buses will produce no pollution from their exhausts and join more than 500 electric buses in the core fleet which are already zero-emission. The new hydrogen fuel cell double-decker buses are first being introduced on route 7 between East Acton and Oxford Circus. The use of hydrogen-powered buses in addition to battery electric models enables Transport for London (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.

Hydrogen fuel cells are free from harmful emissions, with the only by-product being water from the chemical reaction of hydrogen with oxygen from air - the process that produces electricity to power the bus. The new buses are intended to help clean up the air and improve the health of Londoners by reducing the level of harmful nitrogen oxide in the air. Passengers can look forward to smoother, quieter journeys, due to less engine vibration, and will be able to take advantage of free-to-use USB charging points.

The green transport investment is also supporting jobs across the UK. The buses were manufactured by Wrightbus in Northern Ireland, helping to create new jobs, and the gas cylinders are manufactured by Luxfer in Nottingham. The hydrogen for the buses is currently being produced at Air Liquide’s plant in Runcorn, harnessing waste hydrogen that is a by-product from an industrial chlor-alkali plant. Oxford-based Ryze Hydrogen is responsible for transporting the fuel to the fuelling station. From 2023, the hydrogen will be even greener as it will be produced by electrolysis powered by a direct connection to an offshore windfarm.

A new, state-of-the-art fuelling station completed by Danish engineering firm Nel Hydrogen will top up each hydrogen fuel cell bus once per day in as little as five minutes.

London bus powered by hydrogen - inline

Image credit: Business Wire

In addition to around £6m of funding from TfL, more than £5m of funding has been provided by European bodies - by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, and the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA), an executive agency of the European Commission – as well as £1m from the Office of Zero Emission Vehicles.

TfL's investment could potentially 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 bring forward its plans for a zero-emission bus fleet from 2037 to 2030 in order to reduce carbon emissions and address the public health emergency caused by dirty air.

Khan visited the Perivale bus depot in Ealing today to see the new hydrogen double-decker bus and new hydrogen refuelling station. He said: “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.

“I’ve worked hard to ensure TfL’s entire core bus fleet across London now meets the ULEZ standards and this includes 500 electric buses. Our new investment in hydrogen buses will move us even closer to our ambition of making all London buses zero-emission by 2030.”

Geoff Hobbs, interim director of buses, Transport for London, said: “London may have one of the cleanest bus fleets in Europe, but we need to continue to act now to tackle climate change and the city’s toxic air quality. Introducing these hydrogen double-decker buses to our fleet, alongside electric buses, diversifies our green bus portfolio and helps us use the right technology for the varying operational requirements of our vast network. This will help Londoners breathe cleaner air.”

Buta Atwal, CEO, Wrightbus, said: "We're incredibly proud to be launching our world-first zero-emission hydrogen double-deckers onto the streets of London to help turn its iconic red buses green. London residents - and visitors to the capital from around the world - can experience what it's like to ride in a UK-made hydrogen-fuelled vehicle that produces no harmful emissions from its exhaust.

Thanks to TfL's visionary approach, the city will have the first fleet of hydrogen double-deckers in England and the benefits to the city in terms of CO2 reduction will be significant. We hope that other cities around the country will follow London's lead and help us in our ambition to decarbonise public transport and improve air quality.

As part of TfL’s wider work to make buses greener, by January 2021 all buses in its core fleet had been brought up to strict Euro VI emissions standards following a retrofitting programme. Since 2017, TfL has worked to phase out polluting diesel buses and to retrofit older buses with cleaner engines. Now completed, this project will see harmful NOx emissions from buses fall by an average of 90 per cent. Transport for London has a total fleet size of approximately 9,000 vehicles.

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