The world's first double-decker hydrogen buses were unveiled in the Scottish oil city of Aberdeen on Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a green revolution in transport and energy transmission.
The first of 15 buses, part of a £8.3 million ($10.72m) project between Northern Irish company Wrightbus and the home to some of the globe’s top oil companies, will see Aberdeen run one of the largest fleets of hydrogen buses in the world.
“We’re immensely proud to be putting the world’s first fleet of hydrogen double deckers onto the streets of Aberdeen,” said Jo Bamford, heir to the JC Bamford Excavators chairman Anthony Bamford, who acquired Wrightbus last year.
“These buses represent much more than Aberdeen striving to reach a clean air, zero-carbon future. They represent the start of what could be a world-leading hydrogen economy here in Scotland which will bring with it multi-million pound investments and tens of thousands of jobs."
The UK wants to be at the forefront of the hydrogen industry, with the fuel considered a key route to slashing harmful emissions in everything from industry to transport and heating homes.
Hydrogen buses are as efficient as electric equivalents, with refuelling taking less than 10 minutes and offering a greater range. With water the only emission from the buses, the vehicles can reduce carbon emissions for cities looking to tackle air pollution levels.
The Aberdeen bus launch follows Mr Johnson's pledge to deliver a package of green energy policies to help the UK become a "world leader in low-cost clean power generation".
Initiatives involving hydrogen fuel, carbon capture and storage, and more wind farms, will help the country recover from the crisis in a greener way, the prime minister said in an address at the virtual Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday.
“Imagine that future – with high-skilled, green-collar jobs in wind, in solar, in nuclear, in hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage,” Mr Johnson said.
Aberdeen said it was proud to bring the world’s first hydrogen-powered double-decker buses to the city, where the vehicles will be tested for several weeks before going into full service next month.
The UK’s first hydrogen production and bus refuelling station was opened in Aberdeen in 2015, as part of a £19m green transport demonstration project.
“By leveraging our unique assets and capabilities, we will help lead the world on the rapid shift to a net zero future and support the global energy transition as a climate positive city,” said Aberdeen City Council co-leader councillor Douglas Lumsden.
“We are responding, as a city and place, to the environmental imperative and also our role as a world leader in the energy sector as an economic driver for the city, region, Scotland and the UK.”
The vehicles will be operated by multinational First Group along popular city routes, and the company plans to run a zero-emission fleet across its entire network by 2035.
The new £8.3m project has been funded by Aberdeen City Council, along with the Scottish Government and the European Union, with an investment of about £500,000 per vehicle.
Mr Bamford expects the cost of the buses to come down in time.
“We can fill it up at the same cost and it has the same running costs pretty much as a diesel bus but the capital cost is twice as expensive,” Mr Bamford told Bloomberg. “With a bit of volume we can get the cost down to the same.”
Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said the government's contribution of £3m towards the new fleet will create economic benefits across Scotland.
As well as Aberdeen, the British city of Birmingham ordered 20 of the vehicles earlier this week. Wrightbus is also delivering 20 hydrogen double deckers to London, following a Transport for London investment of about £12m in the buses and the corresponding hydrogen refilling infrastructure that will transport 64 passengers per 10.9 metre long bus.
Hydrogen is already making progress in the country’s public transport system, with the first hydrogen-powered trains tested amid plans to carry passengers by 2022.
Last month, an experimental plane powered by hydrogen fuel cells took off on a short flight from a British airfield. The six-seat Piper Malibu plane completed a 20-minute flight from Bedfordshire, near London, that could eventually pave the way for decarbonising small passenger aircraft.
ZeroAvia, the company which developed the plane, will next work on a zero-emission craft capable of flying up to 400km by the end of the year.