City of Tallinn test-driving hydrogen buses

Hydrogen bus refueling in process.
Hydrogen bus refueling in process. Source: Still from ETV show 'Osoon'

The City of Tallinn is test driving hydrogen buses on the streets of the capital starting Tuesday this week; Tallinna Linnatranspordi AS (TLT), the city's public transport firm, says that the vehicles could be commonplace five to seven years from now.

Stakeholder Ain Laidoja, Executive Director of the Estonian Hydrogen Technology Association (Eesti Vesinikutehnoloogia Ühing) said: "The difference between electric and hydrogen buses lies solely in how the energy is conveyed."

"In the case of an electric bus, energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery, while with a hydrogen bus, hydrogen which is converted into electricity directly on board the bus," he went on.

Advantages of hydrogen tech include faster refueling/recharging and longer ranges, he added.

"Why not, for example, use hydrogen tech to drive from Tallinn to Riga, carry out a quick refuel there, have a new bus driver take the wheel, and immediately return?"  Laidoja said.

"It takes one fiftieth of the time for a hydrogen bus to charge up the same amount of energy than is the case, for example, with an electric bus."

Meanwhile TLT chief Kaido Padar told ERR he is looking forward to testing the hydrogen buses. 

"Each bus, whether it runs on gas, electricity or diesel, has its own idiosyncrasies. The plan on Tuesday is to put the hydrogen bus into service on route number 16 on a regular route to see how it copes with the route volume. In general, the most important thing for transport firms which cover many kilometers between cities is continuity," Padar went on.

Ain Laidoja added that environmentally-friendly hydrogen buses are needed to achieve climate goals, though the correct infrastructure is needed to achieve this: "We need a bucket full of water and 50KWh of electricity - we can get one kilogram of hydrogen from this," as he put it.

The first hydrogen refueling station will be ready at year-end; not only buses but also taxis running on hydrogen will start to enter the traffic stream, Laidoja said.

The Center for Environmental Investments (KIK) has allocated €5 million to allow energy firm Utilitas to set up a green hydrogen production unit and supply infrastructure in the capital.

Kaido Padar said that, however, this is still early days; at present, hydrogen buses cost double their electric counterparts to run, while their entry into mass service is likely five to seven years away, he added, citing Europe-wide experience.

Ain Laidoja said that tax policy must be such that all green tech is on an equal competitive footing, not least by taxing fossil fuels more; the latter category will include biomethane-powered buses, in addition to diesel vehicles.

Fossil fuel buses are set to be completely phased out by 2035 in line with EU norms, though the transition may take longer than initially hoped for.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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