An ambitious plan to put 3,000 UK-built hydrogen fuel cell buses on the country’s roads has been launched.
The campaign is being led by Jo Bamford, founder and executive chairman of fuel company Ryse Hydrogen and owner of Wrightbus, the UK manufacturer that made the world’s first hydrogen double decker bus.
He believes success could spark a transformation of other heavy-duty vehicles, such as lorries, trains, ambulances, police cars and even ships.
In addition to protecting the environment, this would create thousands of skilled, green collar jobs across the country to help the economy recover from the Coronavirus pandemic.
It comes as the price gap between fuel cell power and traditional diesel buses has reduced significantly, creating an additional incentive for commercial vehicle operators to switch fuels.
Bamford (pictured), heir to the JCB empire, left his father’s business after 14 years to set up on his own. He said: “Cities around the world are seeing massive reductions in air pollution as many vehicles have been kept off the road during the pandemic.
“If we just go back to how public transport has traditionally been run, levels of pollution will quickly rise again to the same levels as before the crisis. We have an opportunity with hydrogen-powered transport to make a huge difference to air quality, and for UK jobs as well.
“We already have hydrogen buses in London. We also have orders from Aberdeen, with many other areas becoming interested in our technology - in the UK and across the world.”
Plans are being drawn up to introduce hydrogen buses in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Belfast, with interest from relevant authorities.
Local authorities are keen to introduce new technology to cut local air pollution, which is blamed for causing thousands of premature deaths each year.
Fuel cell buses use a chemical reaction with hydrogen to create electricity that then powers the vehicles; the only emission is water.
Hydrogen to power the fuel cells will come from wind and solar-powered factories in the UK.
Bamford’s aim to have 3,000 hydrogen buses operating in UK towns and cities by 2024 - about 10% of the UK’s total bus fleet - would save an estimated 280,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent of taking more than 100,000 cars off the road.
He is asking the Government to set aside £500 million - 10% of the National Bus Strategy fund – including about £200 million to build hydrogen production facilities and develop a fleet of fuel transportation vehicles.
Another £300 million would subsidise the building of the buses to ensure the cost is the same as an equivalent diesel.
Bamford said “The Government gives the public a subsidy to buy an electric car, why shouldn’t a bus operator be supported?
“We have a real opportunity to back a sector that will create jobs, economic growth and allow us to claim position as global leaders in hydrogen transport technology.
“With countries across the world also looking to drastically cut their carbon emissions, let us build an industry that can sell zero carbon products, skills and innovation across the world. We can make significant progress on this in the next five years, but it must start with buses and it must start now.”
Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It is clear that a range of technologies will be needed to take the UK's transport system to net zero carbon emissions. Battery electric is not going to be viable for all uses, so buses fuelled by green hydrogen will be necessary to serve longer ranges and rural routes, and hydrogen lorries to move heavier loads over longer distances.”