Alsa, in collaboration with Toyota, has an ambitious project underway to start up hydrogen-powered buses for metropolitan and long-distance use. Undoubtedly an ambitious proposal towards zero emission mobility that at the moment already works daily in Torrejon de Ardoz, in Madrid.
There is much talk of electric cars, of zero emission vehicles, but where their implementation is essential is in intensive use vehicles. If an Alsa intercity bus travels some 500,000 kilometers every year, what better way to reduce emissions than to use this type of technology in public transport. And Alsa, a leader in long-distance public transport, is the protagonist of this hydrogen adventure that is already operational.
only two buses
The company currently has two buses for metropolitan use, short and medium distance operating Hydrogen powered. One works daily on two lines in Torrejon de Ardoz, given the proximity to its bus station. Every day he rides about 200/250 kilometers. The other vehicle is used as a demonstration in different Spanish cities, to show the possibilities of a real zero emission vehicle.
These vehicles incorporate the Toyota’s fuel cell technology, which is already very advanced. It should not be forgotten that the Japanese brand, and its rival Hyundai, are the only two brands that regularly offer hydrogen vehicles to the public. Toyota with the Mirai, a spectacular and advanced sedan, while Hyundai has an SUV also powered by hydrogen, the Nexo.
Both companies are developing all kinds of vehicles powered by this zero emission fuel, vans, buses and even trucks.
The future is marked by zero emission mobility, without a doubt. But depending on the type of route you can use one or the other. If it is for urban use, perhaps the battery electric is the most interesting, even for buses. For those of metropolitan use, and depending on the range and the kilometers to be covered each day, a battery-powered vehicle can also be operative.
But for medium and long distance the only viable option is the one represented by hydrogen.
The reason is clear, the fuel to provide 400 kilometers of autonomy in one of hydrogen supposes some 40 kilos of hydrogen spread over five tanks. To make the same route with one of batteries, approximately five tons of batteries will be needed. And also recharging is a limitation. In the case of a hydrogen tank, like Alsa’s, the tank is filled from scratch in about 12 minutes. With a battery vehicle, recharging 400 kWh batteries will take at least six hours.
Hydrogen for medium and long distance an is a future project, at least in Spain. There is no hydrogen plant open to the public in Spain where this fuel can be freely refueled. But if there are several semi-private ones, most of them have a pressure of 350 bars, when the ideal would be 700 bars.
In other countries such as Japan, Korea or the US, especially California, this fuel is already a reality. Even Germany already has about 90 operations. However, if the authorities put in place the appropriate means to encourage this deployment of hydrogen, Spain could become the great protagonist on a world level. Our country has a lot of sun and wind, and this is the key to developing a green hydrogen industry, one that is truly zero emissions. On the contrary, Spain will lose its leadership position in a technology that, without a doubt, marks the future, not only of mobility but of the energy of tomorrow. Why bet on battery recharging points for long-distance runners, if this is only a transition towards the hydrogen vehicle, for long-distance journeys, for road transport, for trains or ships and also for long-distance buses.
Spain cannot miss this opportunity
Hydrogen is what experts call a energy vector. In other words, a lot of energy is used to produce hydrogen from the hydrolysis of water, but later, this energy can be stored and used where it is needed. Those who oppose the use of hydrogen argue that it is an inefficient technology, but it is a way of storing energy that would otherwise be wasted.
In any case, the future of energy is still complex. All available technologies must be used, depending on the type of use, to achieve a rational transition. It is useless to hastily implement the electric car with zero emissions batteries, if electricity is then produced by burning coal, as Germany and the Netherlands, among others, do. And they are the most used in the battery electric car, but emitting 850 grams of CO2 per kWh of electricity produced. It’s just theoretical zero emissions, while green hydrogen is actual zero emissions.
But there is still a long way to go to see this technology implemented and operational. As I was saying, in Spain there is no hydrogen plant normally open to the public. And even less than 700 bar pressure for complete filling.
There is another very important factor which is the cost of the vehicle. A normal bus with a diesel engine has an estimated cost of 250,000 euros. If we talk about an electric battery, then it reaches 550,000 euros. Well, in the case of the hydrogen bus, and according to Alsa’s estimate, the acquisition cost rises to 650,000 euros.
With these prices and the lack of infrastructure for recharging and hydrogen generation, it is difficult for this interesting technology to prosper, at least in Spain. Although our country has the potential to become a world leader in this energy revolution that is coming if our politicians and society have a vision of the future.
With this vehicle we have been able to make a small test tour around Torrejon in which, without a doubt, the smoothness and silence, except for the air conditioning, is the most remarkable thing. We have also been able to see how a recharge is made at the hydroline installed at the Alsa headquarters in Torrejon de Ardoz. It is not a production station but simply a tank that is refilled by truck. The storage pressure is 150 bar, but later a compression is carried out up to about 900 bar. With this you can recharge the tank, the five tanks that are located on the roof of the bus, with a pressure of up to 350 bars. This fuel allows to travel more than 300 kilometers every day.