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Clean Transport Barcelona Bus Story Shows Difference Between Hydrogen & Battery-Electric Vehicles

Published on December 9th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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Barcelona Bus Story Shows Difference Between Hydrogen & Battery-Electric Vehicles



Originally published on EV Obsession.

The experience of Barcelona’s leading transit agency, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), provides an excellent comparison of the key difference between battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles, a difference that exists today and will exist indefinitely.

TMB has been a member of Europe’s Hydrogen Bus Alliance for years. In the past, it has even trialled hydrogen-powered buses. Through its testing, it found that hydrogen buses were about 12x more expensive than conventional/diesel buses — too expensive right now to be considered for use in TMB’s (or anyone else’s) fleet.

Now, TMB is trialling a BYD electric bus (the short video at the top is from inside the bus). The bus is supposed to run for 16 hrs a day, two 8-hour shifts. BYD’s bus was the only bus that met the specifications that TMB put out for this trial program. In its first summer (~4 months) running, it was running ~14 hrs a day. The pilot program should last for 2 years in total.

The battery system in the bus is supposed to last about 7.5 years. So, TMB would need to change the battery system just once over the 15-year service lifetime of the bus if this turns out to be accurate. If so, the lifetime cost will be about the same as that of conventional buses.

Naturally, if battery costs come down and/or fuel costs go up, electric buses could become the cheaper option. However, if the battery systems don’t live up to specifications, the buses could be a bit more expensive. Though, with so much research and development occurring, as well as considerable cost drops that come with increased manufacturing, the expectation leans towards the former rather than the latter. Furthermore, if someone decided to tax diesel buses to account for the health costs they impose on the city’s residents, I imagine BYD’s electric option would come at on top by a long shot.

I think this bus comparison is an excellent example of the key difference that exists today between hydrogen-powered and battery-electric vehicles (cars included). And many contend that this difference will remain forever. The difference, of course, is that hydrogen vehicles are enormously expensive, while battery-electric vehicles are more or less comparable to conventional vehicles when looking at lifetime costs… without even including the tremendous health and pollution costs that come with diesel- or gasoline-powered vehicles.

Of course, electric vehicles are zero emissions vehicles, but if you are curious about the electricity split of Barcelona that powers these buses, the following is a general estimate of the average electricity consumption split in Barcelona today:

  • 25% wind
  • 20% nuclear
  • 5% PV
  • 30% natural gas
  • 20% coal

That makes for some quite clean electricity.

If the BYD bus lives up to expectations, what would be the reasons for not switching to electric buses!?

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he's the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • Xabier

    Hi Zachary.
    Where can I found data about the costs differences between Hydrogen powered buses and “normal” ones you mention in the first paragraph?

  • rbartizek

    What about the energy, materials and emissions required to manufacture and charge the battery? How does that compare to conventional fuel or hydrogen?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’ve never seen an analysis of the materials/energy/labor in creating a hydrogen infrastructure vs. manufacturing EV batteries.

      In terms of charging, it takes 2x to 3x as much electricity to crack water into hydrogen and drive a H2 FCEV as to charge and drive an EV for a mile.

      Driving with hydrogen might not be any cheaper than driving with gasoline in an efficient hybrid.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Great article! BYD uses heavy lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, but they are very resilient and I would guess that they will exceed the 7½ year lifespan estimate.

    • Kyle Field

      I also wonder if an electric bus would last longer than a gas counterpart and thus, might not need to be replaced every 15 yrs…

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Good point. That seems like something worth considering. The interiors can be upgraded without too much extra cost.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thanks for that extra info. Any idea why BYD is the only manufacturer that could meet TMB’s requirements? Related to the batteries? Or something else?

      • Jouni Valkonen

        I think that BYD is almost only manufacturer who is really trying. Proterra is another, but I think they are not comparable in volumes to BYD.

        However this is also interesting. 1 MW electric bus charging system demonstrated. I think that this is as fast as filling tank with diesel.

        Eaton announces fast charger for large electric vehicles
        Power management company Eaton has release the world’s first HyperCharger capable of fast charging vehicles at up to one megawatt, or ten times the output of the CCS standard.

        Designed for fleets, the HyperCharger is scalable from 200kW to 1MW and allows fast charging of plug-in hybrid and electric buses and large trucks. Eaton said it hopes the product will make it easier for governments and companies to supply power for electrically-powered vehicles.

        http://evfleetworld.co.uk/news/2013/Dec/Eaton-announces-fast-charger-for-large-electric-vehicles/0438011993

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          Thanks. Yeah, have noticed Proterra a few times. Yep, we just covered that Eaton news. Quite interesting. :D

  • tibi stibi

    wireless charges on every busstop would be interesting :)

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s a bus system being tested in Utah that charges at some bus stops along it’s route. And there’s a bus system in South Korea that uses wireless charging embedded in the roadway that allows the buses to charge while on the move.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      With wired chargers it possible to charge at 400 kW rate, that is more than sufficient and it gives enough range that bus can survive to the next smoking break at the end of the line.

      400 kW wireless charging would probably fry the passengers. But if it can be scaled, it of course might make things little easier at some time point in the future.

      However, I think that with bigger batteries, we will get faster charging rates and longer lifespan for the battery, so I would say that wireless charging is only a convenience factor.

  • Matt

    So for the trail they did not add any fast charging along the route, which would let you have smaller batteries (lower cost). That is the advantage of a bus over a car, it runs a fix route so can use in route charging. But to go that route requires a bigger up front commitment to the idea. So this path lets them get started.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Hmm, interesting point… hopefully something they’d consider down the road. I should email the guy I interviews and ask him about this. Seems like smth they would have considered.

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