Hydrogen mobility: It’s your time to shine

Bolzano’s buses and beyond: the future of mobility lies in clean alternative drivetrain technologies. See how green hydrogen-powered buses in South Tyrol are leading the charge.

This Picture Shows the H2 filling Station in Bozen, Italy.
Beautiful Bolzano: Where emission and noise free hydrogen mobility is setting an example

It’s bad news for petrol heads. It seems the world is not only waking up to but also standing up to the toll that gas-guzzling combustion engines are taking on our environment – and our health. 2017 saw France pledge to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040; closely followed by Britain. Even the carmakers got involved with Volvo announcing that it would only make fully electric or hybrid vehicles as of 2019 onwards: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – as the saying goes.

It’s all part of a growing global push – with the Paris Climate Accord as its impetus – to curb emissions by promoting cleaner alternative drivetrain technologies. One such solution is hydrogen fuel cell mobility. Thought of as a critical element in the decarbonisation of the transportation sector, as well as a central pillar in the wider energy transition, hydrogen mobility is something that Linde is proud to pioneer through technological innovation.

Bolzano’s buses: Ahead of the game

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have been in action in Bolzano, Italy, for the best part of a decade. Since 2010, five of the 96 city buses in the capital city of South Tyrol are running on hydrogen (H2), providing passengers and local inhabitants with a unique experience: emission and noise-free public transport.

Bolzano was chosen as one of five European “new adopters” in the Clean Hydrogen in European Cities (CHIC) project which ran from 2010 to 2016. The CHIC project provided almost €26 million to help integrate 26 fuel-cell buses in daily operations on regular bus routes across Bolzano, Milan, London, Oslo and Aargau.

But it was Linde who provided the technology and the know-how. In fact, Linde has been the driving force behind hydrogen technology advancement for decades now. From production to storage to fuelling technologies, Linde has paved the way with important technological milestones that make it all possible.

Hydrogen bus running through the City of Bolzano.
Ahead of the game: Bolzano’s hydrogen-powered buses have been running since 2010
Linde's proprietary ionic compressor. This image was used for the TLG Annual Report 2014.
The key to hydrogen mobility: Linde’s proprietary ionic compressor

At the heart of hydrogen mobility

By day, the custom-built hydrogen fuelling station in Bolzano – for which Linde is the technology provider – is fairly quiet. In the evening, though, it springs into action as the fuel-cell buses return from their daytime travels with around 200 kilometres on the clock. Within just a few minutes, fresh gaseous hydrogen flows into the tanks: and they’re all ready to set off again the next morning. It’s that simple: but it wasn’t always.

The Linde Group provides turnkey solutions for gas compression and storage, with a focus on hydrogen refuelling stations for all customer needs – whether for buses, cars, trains or any other application. The key component in the refuelling process is compression of the stored gas to a certain pressure for refuelling the vehicles: typically, from 350 bar for buses to 700 bar for cars. And for that, the H2 Mobility Solutions Team developed the ionic compressor: an invention that was to pave the way for hydrogen mobility.

“In 2006 we invented the ionic compressor – a special type of compressor designed specifically for hydrogen that replaces solid pistons with ionic liquid. This reduces operation costs and increases reliability. Before this, there really was no efficient solution for refuelling,” explains George Tinkhauser, head of the team’s international sales and marketing.

Ten years later in 2016, the team issued a patent for the constant pressure tube – another trailblazing piece of technology for effectively storing the gas. “If you need a lot of H2 that must be delivered at 700bars, you need massive storage vessels,” explains Tinkhauser, “and much of the capacity goes to waste.” Constant pressure tubes however, can store and release gas while keeping the same pressure and use 99% of the storage capacity as opposed to only one third like for conventional systems.

Linde-built Shell hydrogen fuelling station in Wiesbaden-Nordenstadt. Ionic compressor. Opened on 14 June 2017.
One of around 40 operating refueling stations in Germany. Opened on 14 June 2017

Green hydrogen from renewable energy sources

Since hydrogen is an energy carrier and not a source, its overall environmental footprint depends on how it is produced. In Bolzano’s H2 centre, green electricity is turned into green hydrogen. “South Tyrol’s energy grid is powered by renewable energy sources, mostly hydropower,” explains Tinkhauser, “and this provides the energy for the electrolysis – the production of hydrogen by extracting it from water. It’s completely sustainable production.”

Linde is currently involved in pioneering hydrogen projects in many other regions around the world, focusing in particular on local public transport. Fleet applications lend themselves particularly well to the technology in its current state as they require short refuelling windows and long ranges. They also operate via central supply stations which adds to the appeal.

Indeed, several electrolysis plants with refuelling stations for hydrogen buses have already been installed – including in South and North Germany (Stuttgart, Hamburg), Italy (Milan), Scotland (Aberdeen) and California (San Francisco). Germany alone is targeting 100 H2 refuelling Stations by 2018/2019 with around 40 already in operation today.

Bolzano’s buses prove the everyday usability of hydrogen based mobility while establishing a ground-breaking ecology balance: five fuel-cell buses, 200 kilometres per day, six days per week and zero emissions since 2010. That all adds up to a saving of over 750 tonnes of CO2 emissions to date. Another small step closer to the holy grail of a carbon-neutral world.