Wrightbus, builders of Britain’s first hydrogen-powered double deckers, has unveiled plans to ramp up production – if it can land a £500m support package.
The County Antrim firm yesterday announced its vision for 3,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles to provide services on Britain’s streets as early as 2024.
For context, there are around 33,000 buses used by local operators in England, according to DfT figures.
Jo Bamford, heir to the JCB group’s fortunes, bought Wrightbus last year. The company now seeks a share of the £5 billion of government support announced in February to decarbonise bus transport. Commissioning 4,000 low emissions buses, and replacing diesel with zero-carbon fuels, are central to the government’s aims.
Hydrogen buses have been introduced, or are planned, in Aberdeen, London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast.
Wrightbus is building the 20 hydrogen-powered double-deckers due on London’s streets this summer, following a £12m investment by TfL last year. Diesel pollution is a major contributor to the capital’s 9,000 excess deaths each year.
Bamford said preserving air made cleaner as a result of the coronavirus lockdown was an important benefit of hydrogen for passengers and city-dwellers.
While three years ago London paid around £500,000 for each of its single-decker buses, Bamford suggested the 3,000-3,500 vehicles funded by government support could be delivered for the same price as current diesel double deckers, according to The Belfast Telegraph.
He said hydrogen production via electrolysis would require the infrastructure to be placed in coastal regions adjacent to the UK’s offshore wind farms.
Around £200m of subsidy would be used to develop hydrogen infrastructure, Bamford added, indicating the buses could be delivered for around £100,000 per unit.
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Jo Bamford’s statement “hydrogen production via electrolysis would require the infrastructure to be placed in coastal regions adjacent to the UK’s offshore wind farms” is not quite right as fuel cell grade hydrogen can be supplied immediately in the short term from oil refineries, and delivered as liquid hydrogen, as an hydrogen fuel cell does not mind if it is not from renewables, providing that it is fuel cell grade (SAE J2719_202003 or 99.99% pure). It is expected that the conventional process of reforming fossil methane with steam (SMR) to “grey” hydrogen will soon start to be upgraded to “blue” hydrogen when most of the the CO2 emitted is captured and stored in depleted gas wells. The final stepping stone to fossil free green hydrogen should come by 2050 when the cost of electricity falls sufficiently to be less expensive than blue hydrogen and the cost could be further reduced if some of the energy to split the water molecule comes from waste steam in steam electrolysis.