It looks like Vancouver’s hydrogen bus program is now kaput, after only 5 years of operation — and will be replaced with a diesel one — according to recent reports.
Of course, the hydrogen fuel used in Vancouver’s bus program was actually being trucked in (by diesel trucks) from all the way over in Quebec (2350 miles away), so I guess not that much will change — except, of course, bus commuters will have to go back to breathing diesel exhaust. As far as overall environmental costs? There’s not much of a difference anyway…
You might be wondering why Vancouver had a hydrogen fuel cell bus program to begin with. That question has an easy answer. The same answer to the reason for expensive, arguably useless, infrastructure the world over. The Olympics.
The Olympics are, after all, in many ways the perfect venue for cities and countries to spend huge amounts of money doing what may as well be referred to simply as “showing off.” In this case, showing off “green” (even thought hydrogen vehicles aren’t green) credentials. What I don’t understand, is why not just have gone with electric buses (which are much greener and much less expensive)? I can’t help but get the impression that much of what’s been behind the push for hydrogen vehicles over the past few years has simply been insider deals and graft.
Gas2 provides more background on this story:
As part of the 2010 Olympic Games in British Columbia, the city of Vancouver added 20 hydrogen fuel cell powered buses to its transportation system. The $90 million worth of hydrogen buses were paid for in part by grants from the Canadian government and were intended to showcase Vancouver as a modern city in tune with a sustainable world. After all, we know the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe of a fuel cell vehicle is water vapor….
But less than five years later, British Columbia Transit has put its hydrogen bus fleet in storage and is offering it for sale to the highest bidder, reports the CBC News. They will replace the buses with new diesel-powered vehicles. If they can’t find a buyer, they intend to remove the fuel cells and replace them with old-fashioned diesel engines, ending an experiment that had doubters from the get-go. What went wrong?
One thing is that after the Olympic Games were over, local, regional and national governments forgot about their much ballyhooed commitment to clean hydrogen power. They failed to build the infrastructure that was supposed to make Vancouver a model for the rest of the world. Part of that plan was a proposed “hydrogen highway” connecting Vancouver to Seattle, Washington, just a few hours drive away. But construction on most of the hydrogen stations never began and the ones that were completed went out of service soon after the Olympics left town.
Of course, the main reason for dropping that commitment must be that hydrogen vehicles aren’t economical… not by a long shot. In this case, the costs + maintenance for a diesel bus costs are around $0.62 per kilometer — as compared to the $1.34 per kilometer in costs + maintenance that BC Transit was spending on its hydrogen buses. The head of Barcelona’s transit agency actually told CleanTechnica site director Zachary Shahan that hydrogen buses were 12x more expensive… while battery-electric buses from BYD are now cost-competitive with diesel buses on a lifecycle basis.
No comparison there. Too bad, though, because I hate diesel buses. Why not just embrace battery-electric buses wholesale? With that market growing substantially and big players like BYD beginning to offer excellent models, why not? I’m sure it would make riding the bus more attractive for a lot of people.
Image Credit: BC Transit