CM – French city cancels hydrogen bus contract and opts for electric buses


In 2021, the US electric vehicle model with the longest range was rated at 405 miles on a single charge

A plan to buy hydrogen fuel cell buses in France was canceled when it was found that the operation would cost six times as much as battery electric buses.

The transport company of the city of Montpellier on the south coast of France between Toulouse and Marseille has terminated a contract for the procurement of 51 new buses with hydrogen fuel cells due to concerns about the operating costs. Few things are more important to a fleet manager than the cost per kilometer of fuel, which is calculated to the nearest thousandth of a euro. When vehicles travel millions of kilometers a year, every penny counts.

Citing a report from La Tribune (Paywall), Electrive says the plan to switch to hydrogen fuel cell buses was made more than 2 years ago under the former mayor Philippe Saurel started. Montpellier Horizon Hydrogen, as the project was called, requested the purchase of 51 buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells for 4 future bus routes. The first 21 fuel cell buses are to be put into service in 2023, and a further 30 buses are to be added to the fleet in 2025. The city of Montpellier has a joint venture between Energies du Sud and Hynamics, a subsidiary of the French energy supplier EDF Group, founded. The joint venture was to install an electrolyser with a capacity of 800 kg of hydrogen per day, a 2.8 MW solar power plant, a hydrogen storage facility and several distribution stations to refuel the buses.

Now La Tribune says that the new mayor Michaël Delafosse has decided to discontinue the project because the financial calculations underlying the proposed joint venture have not turned out as expected. Specifically, the city calculates that it would cost 95 cents per kilometer for hydrogen-powered buses, compared to 15 cents per kilometer for battery-powered buses. In addition, the costs of the fuel cell buses were between 150,000 and 200,000 euros higher than those of the battery-powered buses.

« The hydrogen technology is very promising, » Delafosse told the press, « but we were helped with the investment, not the operation, » so that in the original plan only the investment costs and not the operating costs were taken into account. « We will do without hydrogen buses for the time being and see if hydrogen is cheaper then by 2030, » he added.

Hydrogen fuel cells still have their trailers, especially for heavy-duty vehicles such as buses, garbage trucks and the like. But green hydrogen is scarce and it looks like it will stay that way for years to come. The question arises, why should you use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and then use the hydrogen to power fuel cells that generate electricity when you can only use the electricity to charge a battery? Every time energy is converted from one form to another, there is inevitably a loss.

When the running cost of hydrogen is six times the cost of electricity, it’s no wonder the Montpellier Horizon Hydrogen project has been discontinued. Theory is one thing. Reality is often an entirely different matter.

Steve writes on the intersection between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut, or wherever the singularity might lead him. You can follow him on Twitter, but not on social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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