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German bus depots clearly favoring batteries over fuel cells


755 electric, fuel cell buses in operation

Current cost favors e-buses, H2 costs falling

Range, charging/fueling requirements key

London — The drive to decarbonize bus transportation in German cities is favoring an all-battery solution over the hydrogen-powered alternative, data from coordinating body NOW show.

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As of the start of this year, the country had commissioned 755 battery buses versus 49 hydrogen fuel cell buses.

Support schemes and cost currently favor electric buses over fuel cell technology.

Federal grants have helped transport operators finance the purchase of 1,500 e-buses, the environment ministry said Feb. 17. The figure is up 50% since last summer.

The scheme is to grant Eur600 million ($720 million) for bus and related infrastructure costs, including new chargers at bus depots.

Grants for 30 e-buses for Stadtwerke Dortmund and 34 e-buses for Frankfurt were the most recent examples, it said March 1.

Last August, Hamburg's Hochbahn awarded contracts for 530 e-buses in Europe's biggest tender to date to Daimler, MAN and Solaris.

Some 140 battery-powered buses are to be delivered this year and next, with 60 already operational.

The city state plans to replace its 1,000 diesel buses by 2030, tendering only for decarbonized buses since last year.

Hamburg received a Eur47 million federal grant for 96 electric buses. It also issued in Feb. 2021 a green bond for Eur500 million of which 20% will be used for buses and infrastructure like a new e-bus depot.

Plans include a 110 kV substation to charge buses mainly overnight via 150 kW chargers.

"Range is the decisive factor for the operation of battery buses," Hochbahn project director Markus Dietmannsberger said.

Ranges for e-buses now guaranteed by the bus manufacturers were similar to conventional diesel buses with availability also approaching a level similar to conventional buses.

According to Daimler, its eCitaro has a 293 kWh battery allowing up to 200 km for a standard bus, which can be expanded to 396 kWh.

Actual usage and charging times depend on various factors. If charged via a 150 kW charger, the eCitaro could be fully charged in two hours.

Range requirements in the Hamburg bus tender were set at 270 kilometers for a standard bus and 150-200 kilometers for an extra-long bus.

BUS FUEL COST COMPARISON (12 meter solobus)

Hydrogen bus
Range (km)
1.5 kWh/km
0.1 kg/km
Cost per 100 km

Source: NOW (German hydrogen coordination unit)

Hydrogen play

Hamburg has also tendered for 50 fuel cell buses using hydrogen as a feedstock.

Currently, the price for hydrogen at Germany's 90 hydrogen fueling stations was Eur9.50/kg (including VAT), a spokeswoman for NOW told Platts.

A fuel-celled hydrogen bus (12 meters long) consumes around 10 kg/100 km, putting fuel costs on par with average diesel vehicles.

Cologne's RVK has been rolling out a fleet of 35 fuel cell buses by Belgian bus maker Van Hool.

Two hydrogen refueling station are also operating with hydrogen currently supplied as a byproduct from near-by chemical plants.

Its overland buses require a range of 350 km and fast refueling. RVK's 'zero emission' project received around Eur20 million subsidies from the transport ministry, which now supports 200 municipal transport providers in their decarbonization efforts. Another 15 hydrogen buses were ordered for end-2021.

Frankfurt also plans to acquire 22 hydrogen busses by end-2022, using synergies with a new hydrogen refueling station at Frankfurt-Hoechst for regional trains.

Bus requirements for the Rhein-Main metropolitan region underline the advantages for each technology: e-busses for inner city lines up to 200 km range, hydrogen for overland routes above 200 km range.

Fuel cell buses can be refueled for a 400 km range with 30-35 kg within 15 minutes, according to Austria's Postbus, which ordered 40 buses from Poland's Solaris for its H2Carinthia project.

Decarbonization drivers

In Hamburg's case, replacing the city's 1,000 diesel buses with zero emission alternatives would help save 0.6 million mt of the required 1.4 million mt CO2 needed to meet its 2030 climate goal.

German transport emissions of 163 million mt CO2 in 2019 were barely below 1990 levels, the sector lagging behind and facing a target of 95 million mt in 2030.

On a more global level, the Hydrogen Council pegged hydrogen-fueled buses as one of the most cost-competitive applications for hydrogen in the future.

Excluding carbon costs, buses would required hydrogen costs (renewable or low-carbon) of around $4.5/kg to be cost competitive vs diesel.

Including carbon at $100/mt in 2030, the break-even point would rise to around $5.5/kg.

Germany has launched a CO2 price for transport at Eur25/mt in 2021 rising to Eur55/mt in 2025, lifting diesel costs.

S&P Global Platts assessed the price of green hydrogen (Netherlands, PEM electrolysis including capex) at Eur3.74/kg on March 3.