There fuel cell is a device in which hydrogen and oxygen in the air react electrochemically, producing electricity. If the fuel cell is mounted on a vehicle equipped with an electric motor (or several electric motors) hydrogen becomes a fuel capable of replacing fossil fuels. An extremely clean fuel because the by-products of the electrochemical reaction are only heat and water vapor. Simple isn't it?
In the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Alto Adige, the European demonstration project CHIC (Clean Hydrogen in European Cities - Clean Hydrogen in European cities) is underway aimed at spreading the technology fuel cell in public transport and its promotion on the European market. As part of this project (which also involves London, Oslo, Milan and the Canton of Aargau), the Bolzano public transport company SASA has been managing five fuel cell bus powered by hydrogen on two lines in Bolzano city, and from February 2015 also on the Bolzano-Laives section.
How do fuel cell buses work?
For those who have never climbed on it, the fuel cell bus they are almost identical to diesel buses in appearance and performance. The most marked difference is the operating noise, which in hydrogen vehicles with an electric motor is limited to the rolling of the tires. Because they are quiet, and do not pollute, the five SASA hydrogen buses are more comfortable and more popular with public transport users.
On hydrogen buses, propulsion is given by electric motors integrated into the wheel hubs which receive energy from the fuel cell. The maximum torque is available immediately (typical of electric motors) and the acceleration is continuous. During braking, the electric motors act as generators by recovering electrical energy that is stored in a high-voltage battery and made available during acceleration.
Why the fuel cell and not just batteries?
Because electric vehicles powered by the battery alone are not yet able to cope with the needs of public transport. The energy density is too low to cope with the distances served by the longer routes and the transport capacity is not sufficient. The fuel cell bus powered by hydrogen represent a solution to these problems. Hydrogen technology combined with electric is a response to the limited range of electric motors even on private cars.
How do fuel cell buses transport hydrogen and where do they fill up?
The transport of gaseous hydrogen at 350 bar takes place with cylinders installed on the roof, in maximum safety thanks to various measures. Moreover, the approval for public transport in Europe proves that hydrogen technology is absolutely safe.
The five fuel cell bus in service in Bolzano fill the tanks at the Institute for Technological Innovations in Bolzano, where the first hydrogen production center in Italy is active (open to visitors). The 13 Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cells that the Korean company has made available (for hire) to local companies, including Fiera Bolzano, which has made its Hyundai available for test drives during Climaenergy.