State to pioneer hydrogen-run buses next year


Two pilot services on capital-Kochi route, another 50 buses to be introduced before October

Kerala is set to become the first State to operate hydrogen-powered buses, with two buses set to ply on the Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram sector by mid-2021 on a pilot basis. Another 50 buses will be introduced before October 2021.

The zero-polluting buses are awaiting approval from the Automotive Research Association of India. Each bus must operate at least 500 km daily to cover the high investment. Uninterrupted availability of hydrogen as fuel source can be addressed since BPCL-Kochi Refineries Ltd. is already in a position to supply it. Only that hydrogen meant for industrial use must be purified further, sources in the Transport Department said.

“A fleet of 50 hydrogen buses is apt for Kochi. They can operate regular services or feeder trips,” said Jafar Malik, CEO of Cochin Smart Mission Ltd.

Tenders soon

Apart from BPCL, Agency for Non-Conventional Energy and Rural Technology (Anert) too has been tasked with producing hydrogen. They would shortly invite tenders for the purpose. Already a manufacturer has volunteered to provide a pair of SUVs for trial runs using the fuel. The Transport Department had made it clear that CNG, LNG, electricity, and hydrogen-run vehicles would be the preferred in Kerala in the coming years to scale down use of fossil fuels which cause air and sound pollution.

1 kg for 2 dollars

“It also has to be seen whether CIAL (Cochin International Airport Limited), which produces solar power in excess of its needs, can be relied on to manufacture hydrogen from water. As per estimate a kilogram of hydrogen can be manufactured for two dollars. Its cost would come down just like that of solar power, since the cost of electrolyser needed for the purpose is decreasing. Moreover, hydrogen can be sourced from LNG, sewage treatment plants, or even plastic waste, which would further lower its manufacturing cost. A bus would need five kg of the fuel daily, which works to less than ₹2,000 per day as fuel expense,” sources said.

‘Fuel of the future’

At ₹2.50 crore to ₹3 crore per bus, hydrogen-run buses are costlier than electric buses. Their cost would come down with technological advancements. Hydrogen cells are also preferred over power stored in batteries, whose weight has to be borne by vehicles. Batteries take considerable space too.

Moreover, hydrogen can be sourced from retail outlets much faster than the time needed to recharge e-vehicles. Countries with ample sunlight are in an advantageous position to export the fuel to the developed world. Kerala, blessed with sunlight, is ideally placed to export the fuel, they added.

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