An Australian expert from Cambridge University has warned that Melbourne’s announced trial of hydrogen buses will cost the city dearly.
University of Melbourne graduate and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge University David Cebon says the new Melbourne hydrogen buses are expensive, inefficient and destined to join an increasingly long list of failed hydrogen transport trials.
As the director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, Cebon is also a member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition that provides energy transition insights free from industry bias.
The Victorian government recently announced that two Australian-made hydrogen buses will be trialled across Melbourne’s west to increase the transition to a cleaner fleet.
Cebon warns that trials of hydrogen-powered vehicles have failed repeatedly around the world, with these new buses not a true zero-emissions solution.
He says the decision is set to be “an expensive mistake for the Victorian government”.
“Hydrogen fuel cell buses are commonly said to only emit water vapour at their tailpipe. But in reality, almost all hydrogen today is produced from fossil fuels – making hydrogen manufacture worldwide responsible for more emissions than the global aviation industry,” Cebon says.
“Electric buses are becoming the zero-emission choice for public transport, worldwide. There are 600,000 of them in China. They are about half the cost of hydrogen fuel cell buses to purchase, and they use a third of the amount of energy. If you can’t use a tram, an electric bus is the next best option!
“There is little need to subject Melbourne to a costly, already-failed experiment that risks locking in extremely high energy costs or the fossil fuels we’re trying to escape.”
Cebon says green hydrogen, the only near-zero-emissions form, is in scarce supply because of the huge amount of renewable electricity required for its production.
These same production requirements mean that vehicles powered with green hydrogen use three times more electricity than those directly powered with the same electricity through a battery.
He says that high capital and fuel costs dogged hydrogen buses at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
In the past 12 months alone, the German city of Wiesbaden retired its hydrogen buses just one year after they were delivered, a scheme to introduce hydrogen buses in England’s Liverpool was effectively suspended due to hydrogen supply problems, a real-world Italian study found hydrogen buses cost 2.3 times more to run than battery electric ones, and the French commune of Pau said it would opt to buy electric buses in the future due to continuous problems and high costs associated with the hydrogen buses it has pioneered.
This follows the city of Montpellier, France, which cancelled its order for 51 hydrogen buses because they were found to be six times more expensive to run than electric buses.