Big, comfortable buses are typical scenery throughout German cities like Hamburg – and, since 2003, many of those buses have been running on hydrogen fuel cells. In the years since, the number of fuel-cell buses in Hamburg has grown from a single prototype to 36 (with plans to add at least 3 more to the fleet in the coming months), and they’ve been getting driven.
Those 36 Mercedes-Benz Citaro fuel-cell buses have been testing, testing, and testing, logging more than 2 million km of data over the last 8 years – data that could be made useful for fuel-cell passenger cars in the future. The diesel hybrid concept is nothing new, of course, but the use of hydrogen fuel cells in place of diesel combustion engines drastically reduces harmful (and potentially fatal) particulate emissions … and by reduce, I mean “totally eliminate”. The buses themselves qualify as ZEVs.
The data from Hamburg’s has been used already been put to good use within the bus fleet, helping Mercedes to improve the efficiency (and lower the price) of new fuel cell vehicles compared to early models. According to the manufacturer, the buses use about 50% less hydrogen than before, allowing a move from 9 tanks on board to 7 while still improving overall range and performance. New lithium-ion batteries and regenerative braking technology have also been added to the hydrogen bus fleet, ensuring that (if it comes down to it) the 39-foot buses can run travel several miles on battery power alone, limping home if they ever run out of hydrogen.
With full tanks, each bus can drive about 155 miles – or: far enough enough to drive a full shift as a city bus driver. No word, yet, on whether Mercedes has plans to bring these buses to US cities like San Francisco (progressive), New York (fashionable), or Chicago (where Mercedes has strong ties).