Swiss municipal vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells

The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have developed a hydrogen-powered municipal street cleaning vehicle, which was unveiled recently in Basel, Switzerland. The vehicle features a 20 kW PEM fuel cell system hybridized with a 12 kWh lithium-polymer battery, and with storage of 7.5 kg of hydrogen.

Along with EMPA and the Paul Scherrer Institut, the other partners in the project are vehicle maker Bucher Schörling, fuel cell system integrator Proton Motor Fuel Cell GmbH, electric drive manufacturer BRUSA Elektronik AG, and Messer Schweiz AG, which makes hydrogen fueling stations and supplies hydrogen.

The ‘Bucher CityCat H2’ vehicle is thought to be the world’s first municipal utility vehicle to be powered by fuel cell technology. For the next 18 months it will be tested in everyday use. In addition, the project scientists want to test the operational characteristics and ageing behavior of the new technology under typical, everyday conditions of use.

Beyond these obvious aims, the hy.muve (hydrogen-driven municipal vehicle) project will also serve as a research platform for socio-economic studies. These will investigate questions regarding the acceptance of hydrogen technology, its market introduction, and its cost-effectiveness.

When fuel cell vehicles are used in sensitive areas such as pedestrian precincts, railway station halls, or even in enclosed structures such as exhibition halls, air pollution is significantly reduced compared to conventional vehicles, which are generally powered by diesel engines.

Because of their low-power operational cycles, municipal vehicles are particularly well suited for fuel cell power, and can be used to good effect in areas where the refueling infrastructure is limited. ‘They therefore offer an important window of opportunity for introducing other hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the market,’ according to project leader Christian Bach, head of EMPA's Internal Combustion Engines Laboratory.

Computer simulations conducted at EMPA show that the amount of energy consumed can be halved by using fuel cell drives instead of conventional diesel engines. This means that CO2 emissions can be reduced by some 40%, even when using conventional hydrogen production techniques based on natural gas.

The project is financed by the ETH Domain’s Competence Centre for Energy and Mobility (CCEM), the Swiss Federal Office for Energy (SFOE), the various project partners, and pilot regions where the vehicle will be tested.

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