London’s Hydrogen Bus takes us on a journey to better air quality in the city

You will have already seen them around town – perhaps on your way to Borough Market, around Covent Garden, or along the South Bank. Or maybe they are so much part of your daily life that you don’t notice them anymore. In either case next time you see an RV1 bus driving through London, take a closer look!

The RV1 route has eight Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses linking Tower Gateway Station to Covent Garden and these have been in operation along this demanding route since 2011. The fleet have accumulated an impressive 700,000 miles winding its way along a busy route for both commuters and tourists.

These buses are a real attraction and they highlight in a simple yet effective way that London is leading in the field of hydrogen technology in Europe. They can’t compete with the guards at Buckingham Palace who receive millions of visitors a year, but hydrogen buses still get their share of selfies with tourists! And of course, bus experts from all across the world are flocking to London to visit the bus depot and get inspired to start their own fuel cell bus operations.

But the most impressive fact is that these eight hydrogen buses emit nothing but water vapour at tailpipe. How come? A fuel cell which combines hydrogen and oxygen is used to make electricity (used to power the bus) and water. It means that these buses are ultra-low emissions – they don’t pollute your air with fine particles or any other local air pollutants – quite a major achievement in a city where bad air quality is responsible for nearly 9,500 deaths a year.

Londoners might not care much about the type of buses they are in – after all, for you and me, the main point is to reach our destination on time in the fastest, most pleasant way. “A bus is a bus!” – this was the main response of bus users in a social study carried out in a number of cities by the European bus trial CHIC (Clean Hydrogen in European Cities), in which the London buses participate.

But instead of just being an everyday part of the city, these buses do not pollute the city and offer a quiet and more comfortable way to travel. This is what fuel cell bus drivers have been noticing over the past years talking to the public.

Over 70 bus drivers have been trained to drive these buses, and they seem to really enjoy them: “It is a very nice ride, because these buses do not have the vibrations and shakes of a combustion engine”.  Another driver shared that “it is the first time I am driving an electric engine, it is much more powerful than I expected for this type of vehicle.”

Two more buses will be added to the London fuel cell bus fleet in 2017 and further deployments are planned in the coming years in line with the preparations of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) where all single-deck buses will have to be zero emission as of 2020.

If you have not had a ride yet, you know where to find them!

This blog has been written by Sabrine Skiker, Element Energy & David Yorke, Tower Transit.