Via its Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), the UK Government launched its “Road to Zero” strategy in July last year. This set out the government’s aspiration to clean up road transport and for the UK to lead the world in developing, manufacturing and using zero emission road vehicles.
By this time some UK councils had already taken significant steps to decarbonise their local public transport infrastructure. Aberdeen Council was a case in point, having worked with BOC to establish a hydrogen refuelling station at the Kittybrewster bus maintenance depot, just to the north of the city. The benefits for Aberdeen and its residents were abundantly clear; air quality improvement, much quieter buses and zero carbon dioxide emissions.
The station opened in 2015. Hydrogen is produced at the station via electrolysis of water utilising electricity generated from renewable sources. It is then stored as a compressed gas until being dispensed into vehicles, much like refuelling a petrol or diesel vehicle. Refuelling takes less than 10 minutes for a bus (and less than 5 minutes for a car), again comparable to conventional diesel or petrol. Bus and van hydrogen refuelling is up to 350 bar and for cars it’s 700 bar.
From the outset BOC worked with Aberdeen Council to implement key safety measures. Not only did the facility and the buses need to be safe, but understandably the local residents and bus users needed to be convinced of this too. Thorough risk assessments were undertaken and shared with the public along with details of the safety measures being taken, such as continuous leak monitoring.
Another consideration was of course reliability. Hydrogen fuelled buses were unlikely to gain widespread public support if they weren’t available when people needed them. So, the station was designed with full redundancy, meaning that if any piece of equipment failed there was a back-up unit available to ensure operations continued.
When the station opened in 2015 it was designed to refuel single-deck buses. Working closely with the Council the station was scaled up in 2018 to provide public refuelling of cars and vans. In 2019 it was upgraded again to accommodate double decker buses.
BOC has carried out an assessment of the performance of Kittybrewster against all other hydrogen refuelling stations across Europe, with a particular focus on volume of hydrogen dispensed and the availability (or reliability) of the station. Against these measures the Kittybrewster station came out on top. The station currently dispenses between 200 and 250kg of hydrogen each night and achieves 99.5% availability. No other station in Europe can match these figures.
The good news story has travelled well, with other councils approaching BOC to replicate and build on the success at Aberdeen. In the North West, BOC has brought together a consortium to construct a refuelling station at St.Helens. Working with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Arcola Energy (with bus-makers Alexander Dennis) the project is being progressed in conjunction with members of the city region’s Bus Alliance, Arriva and Stagecoach.
It will be the largest deployment of Fuel Cell Buses in the UK to date with up to 25 hydrogen–powered buses on the streets of the Liverpool City Region by 2020. Having declared a Climate Emergency earlier this year the project will contribute to the city region’s plans both to improve air quality and work towards a zero carbon economy by 2040. The station will initially deliver 500kg of hydrogen each day and has secured £6.4m of Government funding.
The operational viability of hydrogen refuelling is not in doubt. What the St.Helens project aims to demonstrate is the commercial viability of refuelling for high-use fleets on the pathway to a network for future use by passenger cars and other vehicles.