French city drops order for 51 hydrogen buses after making electric buses six times cheaper to run

A two-year-old project to run 51 hydrogen buses in and around the French city of Montpellier has been canceled as too expensive after elected officials realized electric buses would be six times cheaper to run.

The €29 million ($33 million) Montpellier Horizon Hydrogen project – which included the construction of a small solar-powered green hydrogen plant – was announced by EDF subsidiary Hynamics in December 2019.

Since then, it has received €18 million in funding, including €6.9 million in grants from regional, national and EU funds – the most recent coming from the EU’s Connecting Europe Facility there. less than a month old – and 8.9 million euros of investment and loans from the French sovereign wealth fund Caisse des Dépôts.

But Michaël Delafosse, the mayor of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole (an administrative region centered on the city of Montpellier), elected in June 2020, decided last week to cancel the project for cost reasons.

Hydrogen technology is promising,” he said at a Jan. 4 meeting. “But we were helped on the investment, not on the operation. However, this would cost six times more than with electric buses. So, for the moment, we are giving up on hydrogen buses; we will see in 2030 whether hydrogen is cheaper.

Julie Frêche, the vice-president of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole, who is in charge of transport, told the French economic newspaper The gallery that the operation of hydrogen buses would cost €3 million per year, compared to €500,000 with electric buses – i.e. €0.95 per km compared to €0.15.

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She added that hydrogen buses cost €150,000 to €200,000 more to buy than their electric counterparts.

Hynamics — who was co-developing the project with the metropolis – declined to comment, saying he was in ongoing talks with Montpellier officials.

Green hydrogen is an inherently inefficient and expensive solution for road transport because it requires renewable electricity for electrolysis to create the H2more power to compress the gas, which must be stored in large tanks, an expensive filling station is needed to pump the stored hydrogen into a vehicle, where a fuel cell converts the H2 back to electricity.

It is much more efficient and cheaper to pump renewable electricity directly into a vehicle battery.

Hydrogen advocates say fuel cell electric vehicles weigh less than battery-powered vehicles, can be recharged faster, and can travel more miles on a single charge.

China is currently the world leader in electric buses, with more than 500,000 on the country’s roads.

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