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Real-World Study Reveals Cost Gap: Hydrogen Buses 2.3 Times More Expensive to Operate Than Battery Electric Buses

5 Sept 2023

A recent real-world study conducted in South Tyrol, Italy, has shed light on the operational costs of zero-emission buses, highlighting a significant cost disparity between hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses (FCEBs) and battery-electric buses (BEBs). The study, carried out by local private research institute Eurac Research, examined the daily operations of 16 FCEBs and five BEBs operated by the local public transport company SASA from January 2021 to April 2022.

Hydrogen Buses Cost More to Operate

The findings of the study revealed a substantial difference in operational costs between FCEBs and BEBs. On average, FCEBs cost €1.26 ($1.37) per kilometer to run, while BEBs cost only €0.55 per kilometer. This translates to FCEBs being 2.3 times more expensive to operate when covering the same distance.

Factors Contributing to the Cost Disparity

The primary factor contributing to the cost gap is the relative energy inefficiency of fuel-cell vehicles. FCEBs were powered by in-house-produced green hydrogen, while the source of electricity for BEBs was not explicitly stated in the report. However, the study did note that 89.9% of the region's power is derived from clean hydroelectricity.

Cost Assumptions

The researchers based their cost assumptions on publicly available information. They considered a cost of €13.80 per kilogram of hydrogen from SASA's electrolyser and €0.40 per kilowatt-hour for local public recharging. Notably, the actual energy costs during the 16-month data collection period were not provided, and these figures were derived from available data.

Efficiency Comparison

The study also compared the tank-to-wheel (TTW) efficiencies of the two bus types. The BEBs had TTW efficiencies ranging from 137 to 153.80 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometers, while the FCEBs had lower average efficiencies of 310.24 and 335.75 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometers. This discrepancy results in FCEBs being between 2.12 to 2.56 times more expensive per kilometer to drive compared to BEBs, considering only monitored TTW efficiency and fuel cost.

Emission Reduction and Future Plans

Despite the cost difference, both FCEBs and BEBs offer significant reductions in CO2 emissions compared to other bus technologies. SASA, the main bus operator in South Tyrol, plans to transition to an emissions-free bus fleet by 2030. The province aims to deploy 180 FCEBs and 210 BEBs as part of its commitment to sustainable and zero-emission public transportation.

The study's findings provide valuable insights into the economic aspects of hydrogen buses and battery electric buses in real-world operations, contributing to the ongoing discussions surrounding green and sustainable transportation.

This article highlights the findings of a study conducted in South Tyrol, Italy, comparing the operational costs of hydrogen buses and battery electric buses. While hydrogen buses were found to be significantly more expensive to operate per kilometer, both technologies offer substantial CO2 emissions reductions. The province of South Tyrol is committed to transitioning its bus fleet to zero-emission options by 2030.

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