What is CHIC?

The Clean Hydrogen in European Cities project (CHIC) is a European project deploying a fleet of fuel cell buses and hydrogen refuelling stations in cities across the European Union and in Canada. The project started in 2010 and will end in December 2016. The project aims to prove that fuel cell electric buses offer a functional solution for European cities to decarbonise their public transport fleets, as they have the potential to operate with the same flexibility as a diesel bus.

CHIC involves 23 partners from 8 countries. The total project budget is €81.8 million, of which €25.88 million is co-funded by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), a European support funding scheme for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.

Read more about the FCH JU here

In which cities can I see CHIC buses and how many are they?

26 fuel cell electric buses receiving FCH JU co-funding operate in the canton of Aargau (CH – 5 buses), Bozen/Bolzano (IT – 5 buses), London (UK – 8 buses), Milan (IT – 3 buses) and Oslo (NO – 5 buses). They are called “Phase 1” cities within the project. The diversity of climate and city sizes allows the testing of the vehicles under different conditions.

Cologne (DE) and Hamburg (DE) operate 10 further fuel cells buses through separately funded programs. Those cities, along with Whistler (CA) and Berlin (DE), are called “Phase 0” cities within the project. In Whistler (CA), 20 fuel cell buses were deployed between 2010 (Winter Olympics Games) and March 2014. In Berlin, 4 hydrogen combustion buses operated between 2006 (Football World Cup in Germany) and December 2014.

During the project lifetime, 56 fuel cell electric buses are being demonstrated in total.

More information about the cities and the buses in operation here

How many fuel cell buses are in operation today worldwide?

More than 100 fuel cell buses are in operation or will be in operation worldwide by the end of 2016. Most of the buses deployed are running on European and North-American streets, while additional buses are being demonstrated in other parts of the world (for example in Japan).

In the United States, around 30 fuel cell buses are in operation or about to start operation in seven different locations, California being at the forefront with 16 fuel cell electric buses currently in operation.

Some 80 fuel cell buses will be deployed across Europe by the end of 2016: in addition to the CHIC buses, 20 fuel cell buses, co-funded by the FCH JU, are being deployed as part of the European projects High V.LO-City and HyTransit in San Remo (IT – 5 buses), Antwerp (BE – 5 buses) and Aberdeen (UK – 10 buses).  The project 3Emotion, launched in January 2015, will see the deployment of 21 more fuel cell buses in Cherbourg (FR), Rotterdam/South Holland (NL), Rome (IT), London (UK) and Antwerp (BE).

In Germany, the cities of Stuttgart and Karlsruhe (Germany) are operating 4 and 2 buses respectively, which are co-financed by the German National Innovation Programme Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP) as part of the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP).

In addition, a fuel cell bus is planned for deployment in Arnhem (the Netherlands) by October 2015.

What are the main achievements of CHIC so far?

The CHIC project is bringing fuel cell buses closer to commercialisation. Following key results can be highlighted:

  • The buses have the potential the same operating range as diesel buses (up to 400km demonstrated) with daily operation of up to 20 hours and offer the same productivity
  • High fuel efficiency: with an average of 8kg of hydrogen per 100 km, the buses are more energy efficient than a conventional diesel bus (findings for 12 m buses)
  • Reliable refuelling infrastructure: Hydrogen refuelling stations have been successfully integrated into busy bus depots; they show a high availability (average of 95%) and refuelling speeds < 10 minutes on average
  • With hydrogen generated from green sources, the carbon emissions are negligible along the well-to-wheel energy chain. Even with conventional (natural gas) generated hydrogen, fuel cell vehicles are saving greenhouse gases emissions.
  • CHIC regional stakeholders, bus drivers and citizens surveyed enjoyed driving the vehicles supported the move to zero emission transport
  • Engagement with influential and potentially sceptical players outside the hydrogen community showed added value of sharing views an integrating their perspective into the hydrogen dialogue

Most of the technical targets set by the project have been achieved (Targets have been set for the CHIC Phase 1 cities only), as it is stated in the table below (data: April 2015)

Parameters Total phase 1 cities Project target
Number of hours on the fuel cell system 166,250 160,000
Average fuel cell runtime per bus (hours)
6,394 6,000
Replacement of diesel fuel (litres) 1,054,210 500,000

Read more about the project results here

What aspects are key to allow widespread commercialisation of fuel cell buses?

The project has identified key developments that are required to allow for a wide deployment of fuel cell buses:

  • Further costs reduction: the purchasing costs of buses have halved during the project. Further cost reduction in Total Servicing Cost (= Total Cost of Ownership plus diesel bus replacement cost due to lower availability of fuel cell buses) is required for commercialisation, these will be achieved through increases in scale in the sector, planned in the FCH JU Fuel Cell Bus Commercialisation strategy for expansion of the bus fleet to many hundreds by 2020
  • The operational availability of the buses has improved during the project as teething issues have been overcome and the project’s availability target is now being met by the majority of sites. This will be further improved in next generation demonstration projects currently underway, and through increased scale in the supply chain
  • Cities have experimented delays in permitting procedure for the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure; global players are currently working together on EU-wide/international standards on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, which will facilitate procedures and decrease costs

Is CHIC the first project of this kind?

No, a previous generation of trials began with the CUTE project (2001-2006), which deployed 27 vehicles around Europe (3 buses in each of 9 cities). The HyFLEET:CUTE project demonstrated service in 10 cities on three continents (2006-2009) with a continuation of the operation of the CUTE buses and a further 14 new hydrogen ICE buses.

Did partners encounter any challenges during the project?

As in all demonstration projects, the partners had to face some challenges linked to the move to hybridised powertrains. The bus availability has been below project’s target at the beginning of the trial. A major program of works to iron out teething issues with the technology and improve maintenance procedures has successfully helped bring the availability to the target level, with some cities now reaching above 90% availability.

What is people’s attitude towards hydrogen and fuel cell buses?

During the project, research has been conducted to gauge the social acceptance of fuel cell buses and hydrogen technologies. In total 185 face-to-face, one-hour interviews were conducted in five of the CHIC regions between August 2011 and March 2013. The main results show that the overall acceptance of the project initiative and the hydrogen technologies is supportive. The driving comfort of the buses and the project “vision” convinced people and appeared to make up for set-backs in reliability at this stage of maturity.

Read the full study here

Are passengers satisfied?

All in all, “a bus is a bus”, the result of the CHIC social acceptance study has shown a strong relationship between the acceptance of fuel cell buses and the perceived quality of public transport service. It seemed that as long as the quality of service is achieved (the main priority), people appreciate an additional commitment of the public transport authorities to demonstrating environmentally friendly bus technologies. In addition, passengers appreciate the absence/reduction of vibrations and additional comfort offered by the bus (less noise).

Do you need a special training to operate a fuel cell bus?

Yes, a specific training is required for bus drivers, but also for other groups to allow the deployment of the fuel cell buses in the best conditions. As all innovative technologies, fuel cell buses require further training compared with training on conventional buses. During CHIC, dedicated training was foreseen in all cities at the start of the project, with regular “refreshing” courses.

Dedicated training sessions were developed for:

  • Bus drivers: training included explanation on the technology, emergency training, procedures to follow in case of failures, hydrogen refuelling trainings. An important driver for the involvement of bus drivers has also been to provide the context of the deployment of fuel cell buses and highlight the fact that this trial is also taking place in other cities/countries
  • Maintenance training for technicians to enhance their understanding of the hybrid diagnostics systems, hybrid and high voltage trainings, gas systems training
  • Emergency services/local fire authorities/voluntary fire brigade: training on risk assessment, training for first responders, training of hazardous material

In addition to the specific training, apprentice and upgrade of staff are performed on a continuous basis.

Will there be a follow-up to CHIC?

Three additional EU-funded projects deploying fuel cell buses have started since the inception of CHIC: High V.LO-City, HyTransit and 3Emotion. Other fuel cell buses are in operation in Germany and worldwide.

The CHIC cities are currently assessing the opportunity to continue the operation of fuel cell buses after the end of the project in December 2016 and to add fuel cell buses to their current bus fleet. Most of them are participating in the FCH JU Fuel Cell Bus Commercialisation Strategy process, which is making plans to deploy a larger pan-European fleet of hundreds of buses by 2020, with the explicit aim of realising cost reduction.

Why go for fuel cell buses?

  • For the environment: to help clean the air, reduce GHG and noise levels
  • For operational flexibility: fuel cell buses have the potential to be a drop-in replacement for a diesel bus with a long driving range (up to 400 kms demonstrated), route flexibility and short refuelling times (<10 min)
  • For energy security: hydrogen as a fuel will help tackle fossil fuel dependency in the EU and can be used as a way of storing excess renewable electricity
  • Now is the right time to act: there is a regulatory push for transport decarbonisation and a network of early adopters and funding schemes in place

Why engage in these technologies now?

Authorities at local, national and European level are establishing legislative frameworks to tackle air and noise pollution, decarbonise transport and push for a switch from individual cars to other transport modes (with public transport playing a key part). Among the zero-emission powertrain bus options, fuel cell buses offer zero local emissions and have the longest range and shortest refuelling times whilst providing full operational flexibility (no on-street charging infrastructure is needed). Starting now with this technology, cities develop in-house know-how with skilled staff and ensure they have the infrastructure and policy support in place ready for this rapidly commercialising technology.

Looking at common EU transport challenges, European Union’s transport is 95% fossil fuel dependent. Every day, EU countries pay a one billion euro bill for fossil fuel import (source: European Commission, Eurostat). Diversification of energy sources is essential to ensure EU security of energy supply. Hydrogen as a fuel offers a long term strategy for reducing dependency on foreign gas and oil, as it can be generated from a wide range of indigenous energy sources.

In addition, several funding schemes are currently in place to support the deployment of fuel cell buses. Those funding schemes will most likely not be in place for decades, many cities feel it is worth benefiting from them now, while anticipating the more stringent legislation for a cleaner public transport in the future.

What about the noise emitted by fuel cell buses?

According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA) “Noise in 2014” report, a quarter of Europeans are exposed to harmful traffic noise emissions. Fuel cell buses offer a quiet alternative to other types of buses. While diesel buses generate around 80 decibels (db) when the bus is standing,  and 77db when the bus is driving, fuel cell buses only generate 63db (standing) and 69 db (driving).  This is about the same level as a normal conversation (with one meter distance) or background music.

Can a fuel cell bus be operated in the same way as a diesel bus?

Urban bus service operating conditions are among the harshest transport service conditions in the world and are characterized by: constant stop-and-go, all day operation, changing loads and low speeds in a wide range of climate and geographic conditions.

Unlike other ultra-low carbon vehicles, fuel cell electric buses have the potential to be driven in the same way as conventional diesel buses: They have a large driving range and are able to satisfy the daily demands of most urban bus routes without returning to the depot or accessing on-street recharging infrastructure, e.g. up to 18 hour operation without refuelling, and with range of 400km demonstrated. They can operate on any route and are refuelled quickly (< 10 minutes). Fuel cell buses offer a long term solution for a sustainable technology which does not limit productivity and quality of service.

Why are fuel cell buses environmentally friendly vehicles?

Fuel cell electric buses contribute to improving local air quality in cities: only water is emitted and no nitrogen oxides (NOx) or particulate matter (PM) are produced at the tailpipe.Fuel cell buses show a local emission free public transport, which is significantly better than a diesel bus on an overall Life Cycle (during all stages of the bus life: from raw material extraction to recycling).

On CO2 emissions, there is a difference in term of the environmental impact when hydrogen is produced from renewable energies or when hydrogen is made from conventional sources (see question on hydrogen production). Most of the CHIC cities are using hydrogen made by renewable sources (green hydrogen) to refuel the vehicles. Research conducted during the project shows that, on a whole life basis, a fuel cell bus running on hydrogen generated from green sources saves 86% CO2 emissions compared to a diesel bus during his lifetime Even with fossil generated hydrogen, fuel cell vehicles show an improvement versus diesel buses due to the higher efficiency of a fuel cell bus compared to a diesel bus.

How does the hydrogen supply chain work?

Schema_CHIC (3)

This is a schema of the hydrogen value chain, detailed replies to each “step” are provided below.

In addition, hydrogen can be produced from other sources such as biomass/waste (not explored within CHIC tough)

Energy sources and energy production: where does hydrogen come from?

Currently, hydrogen is produced from many different sources and is commonly available. Hydrogen can be made from hydrocarbons in a process known as reformation. Today most hydrogen is produced in this way using fossil fuels, primarily natural gas, but also oil, coal, and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). The reformation process can also be used to generate “green” hydrogen either by starting with a biological hydrocarbon as the feedstock, or by capturing the carbon dioxide and burying it (CCS), or even doing both, which leads to “carbon negative” hydrogen.

Alternatively, hydrogen can be produced by using electricity to ‘split’ water into hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis.  If the electricity is generated from renewable sources it is then called “green hydrogen”.

The CHIC cities use hydrogen produced from both reformation of fossil fuels and renewable electrolysis, with the majority of cities producing hydrogen “on-site”. In Cologne hydrogen is supplied as a by-product from the chemical industry.

Because hydrogen can be made in a variety of ways and from many different sources, every region of the world can produce its own fuel.  This has the potential to be both good for the environment and the local economy.

Distribution: How is hydrogen transported?

Currently, hydrogen is mainly transported via road or pipeline in gaseous or in liquefied form.

Both methods are applied within CHIC cities: hydrogen is supplied in its liquefied form (in Whistler) or in its gaseous form (in Cologne and London).

Other options to transport hydrogen are being explored such as the use of chemicals which absorb hydrogen (not within CHIC).

Read more on hydrogen delivery here

Storage/refuelling: where is the hydrogen refuelling station located for the buses?

The hydrogen refuelling stations in the CHIC project are located either at bus depots or close by. Some hydrogen refuelling stations are public (such as in Hamburg) and can be used by other vehicles such as fuel cell cars as well (at  700 bar).

See below example of the hydrogen refuelling station in Bolzano.

Bozen HRS


Refuelling: how esay is it to refuel a fuel cell bus?

The refuelling of a hydrogen bus is comparable to a conventional gas bus: there is a nozzle, and hydrogen is pumped into the vehicle. The refuelling time of a bus is less than 10 minutes in average.

Are there any hydrogen infrastructure expansion plans in Europe?

In addition to buses, there is considerable activity around hydrogen as a fuel for other vehicles, notably passenger cars. In recent years, a number of global manufacturers have announced plans to bring new fuel cell vehicles to market, including manufacturers with products available today – Hyundai and Toyota, as well as manufacturers with release dates in the next years – Honda (2016), Daimler (2017) and BMW (2020).

In several countries, there are plans to develop the network of publically accessible hydrogen refuelling stations for these vehicles. A publically hydrogen refuelling station accessible to all vehicle types may not systematically be located next to the bus depot to all for refuelling of individual cars.

Germany has announced the goal of developing 400 new hydrogen refuelling stations by 2023 – of which 100 new hydrogen refuelling stations by 2017. Read more about next steps here

In the UK, the plan is to build 65 new hydrogen refuelling station by 2020, and 330 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025. Read more about next steps here.

Similar plans are being developed in Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and in France.

What is the FCH JU?

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) is a public private partnership supporting research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) activities in fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies across Europe. Launched by a Council Regulation on 30 May 2008, its aim is to accelerate the market introduction of these technologies, realising their potential as an instrument in achieving a low carbon energy system. On 6th May 2014, the Council of the European Union formally agreed to continue the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative under the EU Horizon 2020 Framework. This phase (2014-2020), will have a total budget of 1.33 billion euros, match funded between the EU (represented by the European Commission, DG Research), industry (represented by the New.IG) and research (represented by N.ERGHY).

More information – including on the current calls for proposals – on the FCH JU website

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