Company owned by JCB heir submits proposal to government that would see UK become a trailblazer in hydrogen bus development
Plans to decarbonise the UK's bus fleet took a step forward this week, with the submission of plans to manufacture up to 3,000 zero emission hydrogen buses over the next four years.
According to various media reports, Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus, the bus manufacturer acquired last year by JCB heir Jo Bamford, has submitted documents to government detailing how it could scale up manufacture of its hydrogen buses with a view to converting up to 10 per cent of the UK fleet to zero emission models.
Bamford, who also owns hydrogen technology specialist Ryse, told The Times that while a number of bus operators were expanding their fleets of electric buses, current battery ranges meant they were not suitable for up to 30 per cent of routes, making hydrogen fuel cells a more suitable alternative.
Advocate of hydrogen argue it is well suited for heavy vehicles and is a particularly effective option for buses as refuelling infrastructure can be installed at central depots.
Hydrogen buses have already been introduced or are planned, in a host of UK cities, including Aberdeen, London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast.
The government has operated a number of green bus funding schemes for several years and recently announced plans for a £50m scheme to replace one town's entire bus fleet with electric models.
However, Wrightbus is now making the case for a £500m package from the government's National Bus Strategy fund to help stimulate the UK's hydrogen industry and support its plans to build at least 3,000 hydrogen buses by 2024.
It is reportedly recommending £200m be earmarked for hydrogen production sites and infrastructure, while an additional £300m is being requested to provide financial incentives to help operators purchase fuel cell models.
In a statement Bamford said the coronavirus crisis and the improvements in air pollution caused by the lockdown had highlighted how it was crucial for the UK to switch to cleaner vehicle technologies.
"Cities around the world are seeing massive reductions in air pollution as many vehicles have been kept off the road during the pandemic," he said. "However, the reality is that if we just go back to how public transport has traditionally been run, levels of pollution will quickly rise again to the same levels as before the crisis. We have an opportunity with hydrogen powered transport to make a huge difference to air quality, and for UK jobs as well."
He also stressed that a large scale hydrogen bus rollout would deliver considerable economic benefits as the UK plots its path out of recession.
"With increased orders on this scale I could increase the workforce at Wrightbus by nearly 700 per cent," he said. "UK-made hydrogen buses are ready to hit the streets today. We already have hydrogen buses in London, and 20 of Wrightbus' world-leading double deckers will be added to this later this year. We also have orders from Aberdeen, with many other areas becoming interested in our technology - in the UK and across the world."
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