Hydrogen fuel cell buses were first demonstrated in 1993. Since that time, the technology's performance has greatly improved and is nearing that of conventional diesel buses.
A fuel cell bus uses a fuel cell to transform hydrogen into electricity. The electricity powers the bus’ motor in a manner similar to an electric vehicle. Today's fuel cell buses are hybrids, that is they use the electricity from the fuel cell in combination with batteries or ultracapacitors to power the electric drive train.
Hydrogen is not a fuel, rather it is an energy carrier. Like electricity, hydrogen, when compressed, contains large amounts of usable energy. This energy is made usable as electricity when hydrogen is passed through a fuel cell. The fuel cell separates the hydrogen molecule into water and electricity.
According to a United States Department of Energy well-to-wheels analysis, using hydrogen from natural gas would emit 63% fewer greenhouse gases than today’s gasoline vehicles and 37% fewer than natural gas vehicles.
Significant progress is being made globally to launch hydrogen infrastructure largely through strategic cross-competitive partnerships. While there are less than 100 hydrogen fueling stations in North America today, hydrogen can be made domestically, efficiently and cost-effectively from a number of feedstocks (i.e. natural gas, biomass and coal) or from renewable energy (i.e. solar or wind power). Initially, hydrogen will likely come from natural gas, and be a bridge to hydrogen produced from renewable energy.
A recent European power train and infrastructure study (McKinsey Study) has calculated that the costs to develop a hydrogen infrastructure in Europe are approximately 5% of the overall cost of a fuel cell electric (€1,000 to €2,000 per vehicle) over its lifetime. This equates to an average annual investment of €2.5 Billion. In contrast, a battery infrastructure would cost approximately €1,500-2,500 per vehicle, but the average annual investment would be €13 Billion over the next 40 years.