Growing demand in Europe for hydrogen bus systems

Hydrogen powered buses

As cities across Europe look for solutions that will help them rapidly decarbonize their public transport fleets, NPROXX, a leading provider of hydrogen storage solutions, is well positioned to meet growing demand for fuel cell buses.

Buses powered by hydrogen-powered fuel cells provide a viable alternative to battery powered vehicles for a number of reasons.

  • Range and route flexibility: Hydrogen buses can travel longer distances on a single refuel compared to battery electric buses. “Especially in an interurban and hilly environment, where the consumption is high, hydrogen works because it can provide more energy” explains Arne Holz, NPROXX segment manager for the Bus market. “This allows them to service longer routes without needing to return to the depot for charging, or needs to wait at intermediate charging locations.”
  • Faster refuelling: Hydrogen buses can be refuelled quickly, similar to conventional diesel buses. Battery electric buses typically require longer charging times, which can impact vehicle availability and route scheduling.
  • Better performance in cold weather: Battery performance can degrade significantly in cold temperatures, reducing range and efficiency. Fuel cells are less sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Additionally, the waste heat from the fuel cell can be used to warm the passenger compartment, reducing the energy drain from electric heaters. “In cold conditions the energy consumption for heating the bus passenger compartment quickly exceeds the drivetrain consumption. This has a high impact on available Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) mileage.”
  • Lighter weight: For a given range, hydrogen storage systems are typically lighter than the large battery packs needed in electric buses. This reduces the overall vehicle weight, which can improve energy efficiency and reduce tyre and road wear.
  • Operational flexibility: Hydrogen refuelling infrastructure can be centralized at bus depots, similar to current diesel refuelling. This allows bus operators to maintain their existing route patterns and schedules. Battery electric buses may require more extensive charging infrastructure as well as space to set it up along routes or at terminuses.

Nevertheless, Holz acknowledges that battery electric buses are well-suited for shorter urban routes where the vehicles return to the depot frequently. The lack of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and the current high costs of fuel are also challenges that need to be addressed for widespread adoption of hydrogen buses” he comments. “I can’t follow arguments that suggest it’s a straight choice between BEV or hydrogen. Both drivetrains have individual advantages, which ultimately need to fit a complex catalogue of customer requirements. The overall requirement drives the decision, not a single factor.”


NPROXX makes inroads in bus market

NPROXX has already made significant strides in the European bus market, with key customer wins and production milestones achieved. The company is currently supplying hydrogen tank systems to several European bus OEMs.

A first batch of over 50 buses that comply with the new R134 homologation standard is expected to enter service by mid-2024. This will expand Europe’s biggest hydrogen bus fleet. These newly-designed systems combine NPROXX’s experience from former EC79 homologated systems and achieve the increased standards of the R134 regulation.

NPROXX is currently setting up a new production line for system assembly to increase production capacity. The company is also preparing its after-sales support capabilities to service these vehicles over their multi-year operating lifetimes. While the full concept is still under development, NPROXX aims to cover everything from routine maintenance to accident repair, with a fuller announcement expected later this year.

Looking ahead, NPROXX sees the hydrogen bus market as poised for significant growth. “What you also see is that more and more OEMs are requesting quotations and technical information. We can clearly see the demand ramping up” observes Holz.

Europe, and Germany in particular, are expected to lead this market, but demand is also starting to materialize in Asia and the US. While a few established players dominate the city bus manufacturing sector today, NPROXX anticipates more new entrants in the coming years as the technology gains momentum. “The EU Clean Vehicle Directive demands a 100% zero-emission target for urban buses by 2035, while setting an intermediate target of 90% by 2030. This really pushes the market,” says Holz.

As a key supplier to this growing industry, NPROXX is pushing for greater standardization of hydrogen storage system architectures to further increase system quality and provide attractive products and functionalities to the customers. The company develops a modular platform that still allows flexibility for bus OEMs to integrate these systems into their unique vehicle designs.

With the right strategic partnerships and continued investment in production and support capabilities, NPROXX looks well-positioned to capitalize on the accelerating global shift to zero-emission buses. As more cities commit to phasing out diesel fleets, hydrogen fuel cell technology is set to play a crucial role in delivering clean, quiet and efficient public transportation.