The EU-funded £19m hydrogen bus project is part of a wider strategy to diversify the Scottish city's economy from oil and gas. Angeli Mehta reports

The Scottish city of Aberdeen is capital of the UK’s oil industry, but it wants to gain new life by becoming a centre for hydrogen energy in Europe.

“We need to diversify our economy and, for me, hydrogen is the best energy vector,” says Councillor Philip Bell, Aberdeen’s spokesman on the city’s £19m hydrogen bus project. Funded through Europe’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, together with national and local government and industry, the city is operating 10 single-deckers made by Belgian bus manufacturer Van Hool. London and Birmingham are other beneficiaries of the EU programme; Dundee joins them next year. Project co-ordinator Element Energy says the aim is to overcome the current barriers of vehicle-ownership costs, and to establish low-cost and reliable sources of hydrogen fuel.

Already the price of buses has halved, thanks to economies of scale; the first cost €1.2m. Aberdeen’s hydrogen buses have carried over 1.6 million passengers and travelled almost a million miles in the past three years. The city will get another 10 next year – double-deckers made by Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus.

An artist's impression of Aberdeen's hydrogen-powered conference centre set to open in 2019. (Credit: AECC)

And it’s testing hydrogen more widely across the city with cars, vans, waste trucks and even a road sweeper.

What Aberdeen has learned so far is that while its workforce has the technical skills, creating a supply chain for spare parts is paramount if its vehicle fleet is to be kept on the road. A key aim now is to encourage third parties to hold essential parts. It also needs to bring down the cost of hydrogen.

The bus project is part of a much wider strategy to develop a hydrogen economy in the city: a new exhibition and conference centre, due to open next year, will be powered and heated via hydrogen fuel cells. Bell anticipates that excess heat from a planned waste-to-power plant for 10,000 homes could be used for steam reformation of hydrogen with an associated carbon capture and storage project. The latter is being scoped, with a view to injecting carbon dioxide for offshore storage early next decade. Bell describes the hydrogen economy as “a shimmering mirage – but you have to join the dots to get there”.

Main picture credit: James Batho
Aberdeen  hydrogen bus  EFCHJU  hydrogen economy  Van Hool  Element Energy  Wrightbus  carbon capture and storage 

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