In 2016, public transit in the U.S. provided almost 11 billion passenger trips via buses, light and heavy rail, commuter trains, and other transportation modes. Almost half of those trips were on buses traveling on more than 230,000 miles of streets and roads. Today, 42 percent of these buses are diesel-powered.[i]

As cities implement clean transportation policies to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse emissions, and improve energy efficiency, hydrogen fuel cells are an attractive alternative to diesel internal combustion engines, and a vital complement to other zero-emissions options. Consider the following:

  • Fuel cell buses convert hydrogen fuel into electricity and water with no exhaust pollutants.
  • Like their diesel counterparts, fuel cell buses can refuel quickly.
  • Bus routes that are too demanding for battery-powered buses, because of length or hilly terrain, or because of cold or hot temperature conditions, can often be completed with fuel cell buses.
  • Depending on fleet size, all-in costs for full implementation of hydrogen fueling infrastructure is typically far lower for than for battery charging.
  • Over the span of five years, one fuel cell transit bus can remove up to 1,134,000 lb of CO2 from the atmosphere, equal to taking 108 passenger vehicles off the road for an entire year.[ii]

Many public transit bus systems serve as the transportation lifeline for low-income residents, enabling them to travel between home and work or other essential destinations. Since the demand for bus transportation is greatest in inner cities, emissions from diesel-powered buses is proportionately higher than in other neighborhoods. Moreover, economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are often adjacent to ports and to thoroughfares used intensively by heavy-duty vehicles. As a result, residents disproportionately suffer the effects of poor air quality. Diesel exhaust from buses, trucks and industrial equipment contains more than 40 toxic air contaminants that can cause or worsen diseases such as asthma and cancer.

By increasing the number of fuel cell transit buses, we can help improve public health by increasing the use of zero-emissions vehicles. According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the transportation sector accounts for 80-90 percent of smog-forming pollutants in the state.[iii] The reduced maintenance costs of fuel cell buses compared with diesel-powered buses could also help mitigate rising ridership costs.

More hydrogen fueling stations and hydrogen-friendly bus routes are emerging across the country. As of August 2018, 33 fuel cell transit buses were in service in California, Ohio, Massachusetts and Michigan. As many as 35 additional fuel cell buses are expected to be on the roads in the U.S. over the next couple of years.[iv] In Europe, many cities are mandating timelines for the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles. More than 120 transit agencies attended the 2018 European Zero Emission Bus Conference, where Cologne’s public transit service, RVK, announced its commitment to converting its entire fleet to fuel cells in 2019.[v] China, Japan, and South Korea are among the Asian countries setting aggressive emissions reduction targets and deploying fuel cell buses in major cities.

In California, CARB voted in December 2018 to require that all new transit buses be zero-emissions by 2029. The state has also mandated that transit agencies have the ability to adopt the zero-emissions vehicle technologies best suited to their application.

The case for fuel cell transit buses is strong, and we’re doing our part to make them an everyday part of public transportation. Click here to learn how we work with OEMs to design and manufacture fuel cell engines for buses and other heavy-duty vehicles.

[i] American Public Transportation Association Fact Book, 2018.

[ii] California Fuel Cell Partnership, “Benefits: Environment,” web page, accessed January 8, 2019.

[iii] California Air Resources Board, “California transitioning to all-electric public bus fleet by 2040,” press release, December 14, 2018.                                          

[iv] National Renewable Energy Laboratory Fuel Cell Buses in U.S. Transit Fleets: Current Status, 2018.                                                                                

[v] Joanna Sampson, “Cologne to have largest fuel cell bus fleet in Germany,” GasWorld, 2 October 2017.