Thursday, 12 March 2020

Hydrogen's Hopeful Hype

The following item was added to yesterday's blog at about 0930 and it repeated here for the benefit of our early morning readers (UK time).


They've Change Their Mind - AGAIN!

The following letter has been circulated to "interested parties" by Giles Fearnley, boss of First Bus.

I am writing to update you on the future of First Bus.

This morning, FirstGroup has announced that it plans to sell all its North American businesses and return to being a UK-focused transport operator, with bus and rail services at its core.

FirstGroup will support First Bus in continuing to play a key role in supporting and stimulating growth across local and regional economies, whilst reducing the environmental impact of transport. The division grew over the last year and we continue to prioritise investment in local markets where our partners support our ambitions to deliver thriving and sustainable bus services.

It is heartening to see the growing recognition across the political spectrum and at all levels of government, that buses have a huge role to play in achieving social and environmental ambitions and improving local economies. In particular, we welcome the Government’s announcement in February of a new £5bn, five-year funding package which will include support for simpler fares, thousands of new green buses, improved routes and higher frequencies. We look forward to working with our partners in preparing compelling bids for these funds.

So fbb won't now be buying any of the First Bus companies!

First had previously announced that they were to dispose of First Bus and develop their business in America.

Yesterday's full announcement from the Board included this, on the vexed subject of First's UK Rail operations:-

We will continue to actively manage First Rail’s existing portfolio of rail franchises to deliver sustainable benefits for passengers, shareholders and our other stakeholders. We also look forward to the publication of the Williams review, which we hope will provide much anticipated clarity around the future shape of rail franchising.

Hardly a resounding endorsement of the Group's on-going future in the rail business, is it?

Interesting times continue.

Back to the Gas, Man!

You might be forgiven for thinking that "Hydrogen Buses" burn hydrogen like a diesel bus burns diesel fuel but, alas, you would be wrong. Hydrogen buses are driven by electric motors, often with back-up batteries, and the gas is used to generate the electric.

It uses fuel cell technology. Which is (fairly?) easy to understand.
Not quite as simple as shown in the picture above but, nevertheless, that is the principle.

Two "experimental" batches of fuel cell buses have been operating for some time.

In Aberdeen, both Stagecoach and First have been operating swish-looking vehicles with the telltale bulge on the Hydrogen tanks on the roof ...
... a modern version of the unsuccessful wartime gasbag buses. For example, during WW1, Edinburgh tried buses powered by ordinary town gas which filled to bag on the top deck.
Other schemes used a miniature gas works fixed to the back of the bus and therefore needed no bag!
In both these gases the gas WAS the fuel, powering a conventional piston internal combustion engine - fuel cell technology was but a future dream!

In London, the prestious ground-breaking bus-of-the-future was deployed on the prestigious ground-braking bus route of the future, the RV1 from not-quite Covent Garden to not-quite the Tower of London.
Boris was enthusiastic - golly gosh!
The RV1 died due to low passenger numbers. It was the slowest way to get from end to end and very few used it on the bits not covered by other, more frequent, services.

The buses moved to a bog-standard suburban bus route, the 444 (Turnpike Lane to Chingford) ...
... and a week back they were removed therefrom and replaced by double deckers.

Meanwhile in Aberdeen ...
The "first phase" has ended.

And the second phase? Here are important people from Aberdeen standing under a huge bus shelter ...
... located at the City's real and genuine "gas station"!
Their sojourn on an industrial estate in the Granite City was to announce that First bus will have double deck Hydrogen buses on the road "by the summer".

The implication is that these will be the first for the UK.

Meanwhile, down south ...
... London seems to be making similar claims! The bus is a Wright Brothers pre-production model ...
... but clearly liveried for London. Its label does not refer to Hydrogen and there are no tanks on the roof. They are hidden at the back where the engine would be normally.

Fuel Cell Electric is probably a better bit of PR as hydrogen is highly explosive (but safe, we are assured) and the little old ladies of London might well be fearful of riding in a big red bomb!

But, yippee, the buses only waste product will be water, so full marks for the environment, air quality, the planet and Greta Thunberg.

BUT ...

Hydrogen production is the family of industrial methods for generating hydrogen. As of 2018, the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming of natural gas, partial oxidation of methane and coal gasification.

In other words a larger and more sophisticated version of those wartime "producer gas" machine at the back of buses.
Town Gas and Producer Gas have a high percentage of Hydrogen in their mix of inflammable substances. North Sea Gas has a higher proportion of Methane.

So, several questions.

Why have both these "state of the art" batches of single deck buses been withdrawn? Maybe the state was not quite as arty as its proponents proposed?

Currently, there is still plenty of pollution with hydrogen; boiling up of scarce fossil fuels etc. etc. to make the stuff.

So how "green" is "green"?

Will the "new breed" of double decks fare any better?

 Next Vienna Train blog : Friday 13th March 


  1. The 444 has not been converted to double deck. It is receiving battery-electric single deckers, though as yet only 4 appear to be in service, with the rest of the allocation made up of rather older diesel Enviro200s.

  2. Thanks for the correction. I was sure I read something different about the 444. Wrong "different"!

  3. Andrew Kleissner12 March 2020 at 14:49

    FBB: Nothing to do with the above, but please note this new post on Cardiff Bus' website: It strikes me as notable for three reasons. 1. It is a month till the changes. 2. They have posted complete timetables. 3. Printed timetable books will be available - usually they go round the libraries, too.

  4. Tower Transit lost both the 444 and 212 to Go Ahead from 7 March. GA are using single-deck electric BYD/AD buses on the 444 (not all yet in service) and the double-deck equivalents on the 212. Maybe that's where the confusion arose?