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Scotland is En Route to Zero Carbon Transit with Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses
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August 16, 2012

Scotland is En Route to Zero Carbon Transit with Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

This week, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond gave the green light for a trailblazing clean energy hub, to be located in Aberdeen (News - Alert) City. The £3.3 million (US$5.2 million) demonstration project will literally be rolled out by a fleet of hydrogen buses—the largest in Europe—which is scheduled to hit the streets in 2014.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise each have committed up to £1.65 million (US$2.59 million) to support the project, which also has received funding from the European Commission and the UK Technology Strategy Board. Now, the Aberdeen City Council, supported by Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, a private-public partnership will start the project’s first phase with an order for ten hydrogen fuel-cell buses.

The First Minister revealed that  the financing in Aberdeen, where he also viewed a hybrid electric bus that already is in service, as one of 74 low-carbon vehicles paid for with support from the £5.9 million (US$9.5 million) Green Bus Fund, a two-year-old initiative. The hybrid buses are powered by a sophisticated battery system and supported by a traditional diesel engine. Local emissions from the hybrid buses are about one-third less than those generated by conventional buses.

The new hydrogen fuel-cell buses will generate zero local emissions, because they will produce water vapor instead of carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions. To date, most global hydrogen production has come from fossil fuels—but it also can be produced from electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offer much higher efficiency than fossil-fuelled transport and are virtually noise-free.

They will be operate on intercity, high-frequency mass transit routes managed by two bus companies, First UK and Stagecoach—and will be refuelled at what will be Scotland’s first large hydrogen refuelling station.

Giles Fearnley, managing director of First UK Bus commented, “This is an exciting, ground-breaking project, which we are delighted to be a part of, particularly in our home city, Aberdeen. Throughout the United Kingdom, First is committed to reducing its carbon footprint, particularly, emissions from our buses. We already operate 68 hybrid vehicles—including 10 in Scotland, with a further 41 on order across the U.K.—and have made tremendous advances in engineering, which has reduced our fuel consumption. This project, therefore, is a natural fit, and one we hope that will be very successful. We're looking forward to operating the hydrogen buses.”

Working with BOC, which is the the largest provider of industrial, medical and special gases in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Scottish & Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD), will develop an integrated “whole hydrogen” system.—which actually will harness wind energy to produce and store the hydrogen needed as fuel for the bus fleet; as well as generate electricity at times of peak demand.

Beyond benefits for the transport sector, hydrogen has a potentially vital role in energy storage. According to the Scottish Government, “Hydrogen technologies can play a key role in facilitating the mass deployment of renewables and are rapidly developing to the point of technical and commercial maturity. The Aberdeen demonstration project is an important step on the path to the commercial use of hydrogen as a fuel, addressing both transportation and energy storage aspects of hydrogen technologies.”

At the official press event at which the announcement was made, the First Minister remarked, “Through our Green Bus Fund, the Scottish Government is already supporting the roll-out of 74 low carbon buses.… Aberdeen is already Europe’s offshore energy capital and this exciting new project can help position it as a leading city for low-carbon technology and green transport. With a strong group of project partners, this initiative will boost Scotland’s profile as a key hydrogen technology hub and a world-leading investment location for pioneering low carbon energy and transport systems (see video).”

In addition to the City Council, SSEPD, and the two bus operators, other project partners include Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, Ballard Power Systems (News - Alert), BOC, Scotia Gas Networks and Belgian bus manufacturer Van Hool.

Aberdeen City Council leader Barney Crockett added, “I believe this initiative will stimulate further innovative hydrogen technology projects and attract even more high-level investment to this city.  It is a crucial step toward Aberdeen becoming a world-leading, smart hydrogen city.”

Finally, Scottish Enterprise Director of Energy & Low Carbon Technologies Adrian Gillespie summed up the benefits: “In supporting this project, we can help to realize the long-term benefits of investing in hydrogen infrastructure. By providing a means of managing or storing surplus electricity from wind-farms, this project could play a vital role in enabling the management and storage of Scotland's vast renewables resources. The recently-published Scottish Smart Grid Sector Strategy estimates that the UK market for energy management products and services will be worth over £1.2 billion [US$1.9 billion] by 2020. As well as creating opportunities for companies already involved in hydrogen-related technologies, this project could also create opportunities for companies in other sectors to diversify their activities into the hydrogen production and storage market.”

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Edited by Jamie Epstein

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