Is hydrogen the answer to a zero-emission coach fleet?

Fuel cell coaches may offer cleaner and more efficient public transport with sustained support. By Christopher Dyer

In the push for sustainable transport, hydrogen could become a viable alternative to diesel internal combustion engines (ICEs) in the coach segment. Coach fleets travel long distances, and have historically depended on diesel ICEs , thanks to the technology's performance, economy and torque capacity. But the pressure is now on to clean up emissions and interest in hydrogen is growing. For instance, VDL has begun trialling hydrogen fuel cell coaches between cities in India while Hyundai is trialing intercity coaches along the coast of South Korea, both working towards developing a long-term solution to decarbonising inter-city coach travel.

“Hydrogen offers clear benefits to transport applications and duty cycles where range and multi-shift use patterns remain important,” says Steve Gill, Chief Executive of First Hydrogen Automotive. The company’s work on commercial vehicles has led to a close partnership with AVL, which is currently working on hydrogen combustion and improving fuel cell efficiency for application in commercial and public transport industries.

Hydrogen could help current coach fleets to decarbonise
Special report: Commercial vehicle hydrogen powertrain

Hydrogen’s poor rate of technical development may be linked to its relatively lower investment levels. . For example, the UK government invested £1.3bn (US$1.71bn) in EVs in 2021, compared to only £950m in hydrogen between 2015 and 2020. The US similarly invested US$550m since 2021 into EV technical and infrastructural development, compared to US$220m in hydrogen during the same period. Gill comments that “infrastructural development, greater technical advancements and legislative support are critical to bringing cheaper and sustainable long-haul transportation to the masses.”

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