Three city buses, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, have been zipping around the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland, for three years. The vehicles are part of a promising project to expand the use of alternative fuels in the country’s public bus system.
The three vehicles, manufactured by EvoBus, fuel up for the day’s run at the city’s hydrogen fuel station, the world’s first, which was opened by Shell Hydrogen in 2003. Hydrogen is separated from water on site, using electricity from the main grid, then compressed into a gas, and runs underground to the pump.
The use of hydrogen was first prompted by Bragi Arnason, a chemistry professor at the University of Iceland. In the 1970s, Arnason, became concerned with the high percentage of imported fossil fuels and began discussions about hydrogen as an alternative fuel. He caught the attention of a government official and the Daimler- Chrysler Corp. The result of those talks was the formation of a new company, Icelandic New Energy (INE), in 1999. Partner companies include Daimler- Chrysler, the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro, VistOrka, a holding company for the Icelandic shareholders, and Shell Hydrogen. All of the partners participated in providing funding for the new company.
The ECTOS (Ecological City Transport System) bus project, as it is called, was initiated by INE and also includes the participation of the University of Iceland, the University of Stuttgart, IceTec, (Technological Institute of Iceland) and the government of Iceland.
INE intends to convert all buses, private vehicles and the country’s entire fishing fleet to hydrogen fuel cells within the next 40 years. There is broad citizen and government support and optimal conditions for the project. Hydrogen is produced with clean electricity since 70% of Iceland’s energy comes from the bountiful water and steam heat just below the surface of this volcanic island. The use of fossil fuel to produce hydrogen would reduce efficiency. Arnason believes that other alternative sources of energy, solar or bio-mass, can be used. The export of excess sustainable energy produced in Iceland, where only 10% is used, is also a future consideration.
While running the buses on hydrogen systems is five times more costly than running a similar system on gasoline, the project was intended to improve and test the performance of the buses, said Professor Thorsteinn Sigfusson, a former INE chairman.
“When hydrogen is used to power PEM fuel cells, the energy efficiency is two times higher than when fuel is used to power internal combustion engines,” said Arnason.