Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Hydrogen Dream Not Adding Up

with 4 comments

BC’s new buses aren’t ‘zero-emission solution’ as claimed.

By Andrew MacLeod Published: December 14, 2007

Hydrogen buses are devilishly expensive. Any new technology is going to cost a lot because the first vehicles adapted to use have a lot of components that are not mass produced. As anyone who has bought an armchair will testify, you get a much better price if you buy one from IKEA than if you get one custom made. And the only thing that you care about is, is it comfortable?

If you have to bring the hydrogen from Quebec by diesel trucks (why they can’t put it on a train is not explained) it no longer is the best bet in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions either

B.C. Transit did what are called “well-to-wheel” calculations, [B.C. Transit’s manager for the fuel cell project, Bruce] Rothwell says, looking at the total greenhouse gas emissions involved in getting either hydrogen buses or standard diesel buses on the road. The hydrogen buses do better.

To power a diesel bus, he says, generates the equivalent of 2,000 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Using hydrogen, he says, even when it is shipped across the continent, emits 800 grams per kilometre. About 65 per cent of those emissions are from transporting the fuel.

“It’s a 60 per cent reduction from diesel,” he says.

That may be, says the David Suzuki Foundation’s climate change specialist, Ian Bruce, but there are better options. Hybrid diesel-electric buses for instance, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 per cent, according to Translink’s website, and they are much cheaper.

The Tyee appears to think that it may be something to do with Campbell wanting to demonstrate confidence in Ballard – the BC company that has been developing fuel cells but has recently backed out of the automotive market.

That may be true, but I think a more simple explanation is pure pig headedness. Campbell has bought into ghg reduction in a big way but really does not seem to capable of understanding simple arithmetic. You cannot reduce ghg if you insist on widening freeways – or bringing hydrogen here from Quebec. You can easily reduce ghg emissions and do it while saving money. Many techniques will pay for themselves really quickly now that oil is close to $100 a barrel. All you have to do is dig out all the old reports commissioned by previous governments. After all, that is what Stephen Harper is doing.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Posted in greenhouse gas reduction, transit

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4 Responses

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  1. isaacmcisaac

    December 18, 2007 at 8:36 am

  2. One could always do more research. I was simply passing along one article with my comments. And if I criticize myself for that, it is that I did not go the Tyee directly and see that article when it was published – a couple of day before the CNN piece – and put it on the blog then. If you are looking for peer reviewed research, don’t look for it in blogs. And I would not be at all surprised to find that the decision to produce hydrogen in BC was in response to the obvious inadequacy of the original proposal.

    I think – but also have not researched recently – that there is a source of hydrogen in North Vancouver, where it is currently vented (thrown away as a waste product). Apparently it is not pure enough for a fuel cell – but I still wonder what it would take to clean it up.

    Are you an employee or shareholder of Air Liquide?

    And why is the silly expression “Hydrogen Highway” incorporated into the Press Release – which is what this is – no investigative reporter was involved in the production of this story. What does BC Transit have to do with highways?

    Stephen Rees

    December 18, 2007 at 9:02 am

  3. I guess if Ballard had wanted to make their fuel cell systems viable, they would have also focused on doing research on making hydrogen production cheaper and more readily available – or at least generated some of their own with off-peak power supplies.

    Or have they?

    In any case, as it stands they’re not looking good, and the “hydrogen highway” is currently a road leading nowhere.


    December 18, 2007 at 7:06 pm

  4. I am curious how the $1B spent by the Bush administration on hydrogen fuel development has been allotted. The plan, announced several years ago with great fan-fare, was basically a sound-bite, but it would still be interesting to know if the money was doled out to universities, companies (the Canadian way, ie Ballard) or partnerships such as FutureGen.

    The media announces that money will be spent, but who gets it and what are the results?


    December 20, 2007 at 9:10 am

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