Fuel cell Postbuses: PostBus satisfied with project outcome
Press release, 1 February 2017
The PostBus project involving five fuel cell Postbuses in the region of Brugg has come to an end. Covering well over 1 million kilometres between them, the vehicles have demonstrated that it is feasible to use hydrogen in regional passenger transport.
PostBus has concluded its project involving five fuel cell Postbuses in the region of Brugg, with a positive outcome. The company was able to demonstrate that there are alternatives to using diesel buses in road-based public transport. Inside the Postbuses, fuel cells converted hydrogen into electricity, which was then used to power the vehicles. The vehicles emitted only steam. The fuel cell Postbuses were introduced to scheduled routes in the Brugg region between December 2011 and January 2017. PostBus tested the five vehicles within the framework of the CHIC European project (Clean Hydrogen in European Cities), a venture in which several European cities as well as the region of Brugg tested a total of 26 fuel cell buses. The project in Brugg was officially scheduled to run for five years and, as planned, PostBus has now ended the project after reaching this deadline.
Residents and passengers appreciate the low noise levels
Passengers and drivers alike were pleased with the vehicles, as they proved to be a quiet and smooth ride. Residents along the PostBus routes also found it a positive aspect of the project that the vehicles were less obtrusive than diesel buses. PostBus, in turn, benefited from the regular discussion with international experts, from the scientific support provided by project partners and from the broad public and media interest.
The fuel cell Postbuses were also used at special events, such as the WEF in Davos or the Locarno Film Festival. The five vehicles covered a total of 1.3 million kilometres between them, reducing CO2 emissions by 1,600 tonnes compared with diesel vehicles. This means that PostBus achieved 80% of its original aim to save 2,000 tonnes of CO2.
A challenging project
The last five years also saw their share of challenges, which is common for such a project. Maintenance costs for both the vehicles and the filling station were comparatively high. At the filling station, these costs were primarily related to the compressors.
Five years after starting the project, the economic viability of the fuel cell Postbuses has not yet reached the desired level. Following an extended period of stagnation on the vehicle market, the sector has recently made efforts to introduce new hydrogen-powered vehicles. However, purchase prices are still considerably higher than for diesel or diesel hybrid buses. There are also striking differences when it comes to operating costs. This lack of profitability is one of the main reasons why PostBus has decided not to extend the project. PostBus is committed to a policy of moderation when it comes to purchasers and public resources. Furthermore, an extension of the project would not have led to any new findings concerning the central issues. Finally, as the vehicles are only prototypes, procuring spare parts for the vehicles would have become more difficult in the coming years.
PostBus believes in the future of electrotechnology and hydrogen technology, and will continue to keep a close eye on the market. The objectives are clear: the company is looking to increase its CO2 efficiency in the medium term and move away from fossil fuels in the long term. For this reason, PostBus welcomes the decision of PostBus operator Voegtlin-Meyer AG to install a hydrogen pump in Brugg when it replaces the hydrogen filling station with a conventional one. The option thus remains open for PostBus to refill new fuel cell Postbuses within the region of Brugg in the future.
Projects with electric buses
Alternative drives remain a focal point for PostBus. The company has already gained valuable experience with diesel hybrid Postbuses, 36 of which are now being used across Switzerland. In the spring of 2017, longer test phases for electric buses (battery-powered buses) will also start in Sarnen and Interlaken, with the aim of examining how well the electric-only buses cope with the variations in topography. Two electric buses have been in operation in Saas-Fee since December 2016, transporting winter athletes from the car park and bus terminal to the valley station of the mountain railways. The buses will be used there until April 2017 when the winter season comes to an end and may be used again in the future should feedback prove to be positive.
This project involving five fuel cell Postbuses would not have been possible without the support of its partners. The CHIC Project, the Canton of Aargau (using lottery funding) and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) all provided considerable financial support. The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) and the Paul Scherrer Institute helped with the planning and execution of the filling station, while also providing valuable expert insight over the course of the project. Carbagas built and maintained the filling station. Industrielle Betriebe Brugg (IBB) ensured a sufficient supply of power using renewable energy. PostBus operator Voegtlin-Meyer AG worked with PostBus to ensure smooth operation of the vehicles. And EvoBus (a Daimler subsidiary) provided the five vehicles. Finally, PostBus would like to thank the city of Brugg for supporting the project with openness and genuine interest.