Perth fuel cell bus trial

In the search for alternative forms of transport energy, many governments and vehicle manufacturers have identified hydrogen as one of a range of likely future energy sources.

When used in fuel cells, hydrogen produces no pollutants with the only emissions being water and heat. In certain applications hydrogen has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to improve the security of supply of transport fuel, and to stabilise fuel prices.

In recognising the potential benefits of hydrogen, the State Government of Western Australian through the Department conducted a trial of three hydrogen fuel cell buses, known as EcoBuses.

The trial ran from September 2004 to September 2007 and was the flagship project for the Department's Sustainable Transport Energy for Perth (STEP) program. This was the first significant use of hydrogen as a transport fuel on public roads in Australia and to support the trial the Department established the only hydrogen supply and refuelling infrastructure in the southern hemisphere.

The purpose of the trial was to determine the critical technical, environmental, economic, and social factors that needed consideration in relation to the introduction of hydrogen as a sustainable transport fuel.

  A global trial of hydrogen

The initial two-year EcoBus trial was run in collaboration with 'sister' trials in nine European cities plus Reykjavik and Beijing. The nine European cities participated in the Clean Urban Transport for Europe (CUTE) project while Reykjavik's trial in Iceland was part of their Ecological Cities Transport Systems (ECTOS) project.

In order to maximise community and industry access to the Perth EcoBuses and refuelling infrastructure, the trial was extended for a further twelve months until September 2007. The third year extension was run in association with the European HyFLEET:CUTE program.

The EcoBus trial was a complex undertaking that required the co-operation of several key partners. Because of this, the standard regulatory process did not easily apply to the buses or the production and distribution of hydrogen. Working closely with key partners to identify and overcome these issues was a critical component of the trial.

The three EcoBuses performed beyond expectations and at the conclusion of the trial had travelled approximately 258,000km, consumed over 46 tonnes of hydrogen and carried over 320,000 passengers.  300 tonnes of tailpipe carbon emissions were avoided by not operating conventional diesel buses.

The EcoBus trial received a number of awards including the 2005 Banksia Award for Government Leading by Example, the 2004 Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Outstanding Achievement Award and the 2004 Sustainable Transport Coalition Government Innovation Award.

The technology


The DaimlerChrysler buses used for the EcoBus trial ran on hydrogen gas, which was converted to electricity using fuel cell engines produced by Ballard Power Systems.

Essentially, the buses were a combination of fuel cell engines and standard bus components such as the automatic transmission.

The advantages of using the hydrogen fuel cell technology include:

  • No tail pipe greenhouse gas emissions;
  • No particulate emissions (for example, smog);
  • Low vehicle noise compared with conventional vehicles;
  • More efficient than standard internal combustion engines; and
  • Potentially lower operational and maintenance costs than standard internal combustion engine vehicles.

The EcoBuses operated on normal Perth bus routes. Initially their operation was limited to the City Central Area Transit (CAT) routes, the City Link route and the Circle routes.  These routes where chosen because they presented the buses with a range of different driving conditions and they maximised public exposure. As the trial progressed the buses operated on a wider selection of routes.

Hydrogen infrastructure

An important part of the trial was investigating the viability of the hydrogen infrastructure required to support the fuel cell buses.

The hydrogen used in the Perth EcoBus trial was supplied by BP and was created as a by-product from their petroleum refinery in Kwinana.

It was then refined by BOC and delivered to the refuelling station by two 34.8 tonne trailers. A purpose built refuelling station then took the hydrogen from the trailer and further compressed it to fill the EcoBuses.

Partner organisations and stakeholders

Organisations and stakeholders included:

  • The Government of Western Australia, which led the project and provided the majority of funding. The Department was responsible for the management of the trial.
  • The Australian Commonwealth Government, particularly the Australian Greenhouse Office funded a portion of the project and was part of the project steering committee (although the AGO is now part of the Department of Climate Change, the section concerned is still located within the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts).
  • DaimlerChrysler, which developed, delivered and maintained the EcoBuses in Perth and other cities participating in the trial around the world.
  • BP constructed the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and supplied and subsidised the supply of hydrogen for the trial in the first two years.
  • BOC was involved in the development of the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and carrying out the hydrogen storage and handling activities in the first two years. In the third year, BOC was responsible for supplying purified hydrogen for the EcoBuses following BP's completion of its original obligations.
  • Ballard Power Systems supplied the hydrogen fuel cells used in the EcoBuses.
  • The Public Transport Authority managed the contract with Path Transit and provided the land for the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
  • Path Transit was one of the three companies that operate metropolitan bus services in Perth for the State Government. Path Transit volunteered to operate and maintain the fuel cell buses from their Malaga based depot.
  • Murdoch University conducted several evaluations into the trial, investigating areas such as operations, performance, Life Cycle Analysis, Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) and public perception analysis.

What did we learn?


At the conclusion of the trial, the EcoBuses had travelled approximately 258,000km, consumed over 46 tonnes of hydrogen and carried over 320,000 passengers.

All participants of the trial agreed that the EcoBuses had performed beyond expectation and by the end of the trial the buses had achieved reliability similar to that of the conventional CNG buses. While there were some difficulties with the reliability of the refuelling station, this improved as the trial progressed.

The EcoBus trial has been important in providing an extensive data set against which other vehicles can be compared. Information collected during the trial has (through the CUTE partnership) assisted bus and fuel cell engine manufacturers to further develop fuel cell technology.

Environmental outcomes

Understanding the potential environmental benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses was a key component of the EcoBus trial. In order to accurately measure the environmental footprint of the new EcoBuses, a life cycle analysis (LCA) was conducted by Murdoch University.

The life cycle assessment (LCA) evaluated the hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell buses in relation to the existing diesel and CNG bus transportation systems.

The LCA models were used to determine the overall environmental footprint and energy demand by studying all phases of the complete transportation system, including the fuel infrastructure, bus manufacturing, operation and end-of-life disposal.

The LCA found that the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of the fuel cell bus system ranked slightly worse than diesel and slightly better than CNG. This was due to the method of hydrogen production used in the trial.

While the GWP profile of the diesel and CNG bus systems were dominated by the operation phase (particularly tailpipe emissions) the GWP for fuel cell bus systems was instead dominated by the fuel production process (which involved the bi product of an oil refinery process).

Production of hydrogen from renewable sources would have substantially lowered the GWP for the fuel cell buses, providing them with a significant advantage over CNG and diesel vehicles.


A comprehensive Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) was conducted to determine the economic impacts of hydrogen fuel cell buses. Fuel cell buses were compared with conventional buses, taking into account private costs (initial purchase cost, fuel and maintenance cost and social costs (greenhouse gas emissions, health costs of pollution etc).

While hydrogen fuel cells have a number of advantages (for instance, greatly reduced tail pipe emissions, greater energy efficiency, improved fuel supply security and potentially reduced maintenance costs) they are also currently much more expensive than conventional technologies.

Technological improvements and mass production of hydrogen technologies will need to occur before hydrogen fuel cell buses become economically competitive.

Public acceptance

The EcoBus trial included a comprehensive communications strategy aimed at reaching all levels of the community. Throughout the trial, the EcoBus team maintained a strong community presence, hosting several depot tours and making appearances at schools and prominent events.

In addition, an educational package (details below) was prepared, while two international conferences were held in 2004 and 2006. The presentations from the 2006 Alternative Transport Energies Conference can be downloaded below.

A Public Perception study was commissioned at the beginning of the project, to gauge the cultural and social barriers to introducing hydrogen fuel cell buses to Perth. Studies conducted before and after the trial.

The study indicated that the EcoBus trial had overwhelming support, with almost 95% of the community supporting the project. The community's awareness of hydrogen fuel cell technology and their willingness to pay for the project also increased over time.

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  International trial outcomes

The EcoBus trial was conducted in conjunction with the CUTE and ECTOS programs for the initial two years of the project. The final report of the European CUTE program can be accessed below. The HyFLEET:CUTE program, with which the third year trial extension was associated, will formally conclude in 2009.

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The future

The development and widespread adoption of sustainable transport technologies will be essential in addressing the threat of diminishing fossil fuel supplies and reducing the transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewably produced hydrogen has the potential to be part of a sustainable fuel mix in the medium to long term.

Information collected during the trial has, through participation in international partnerships, assisted bus and fuel cell engine manufacturers to further develop fuel cell technology.

Fuel cell bus suppliers are now considering several improvements for the next generation of hydrogen fuel cell buses, higher pressure hydrogen storage (increased from 350bar to 700 bar), wheel hub motors, electrically powered auxiliary systems, fewer fuel cells with greater power density and hybridised drive trains. These improvements offer significant efficiency gains over the fuel cell buses used in Western Australia's trial.

All participants agreed that throughout the course of the Perth trial, the EcoBuses performed beyond expectations and the project successfully demonstrated that hydrogen is indeed a technically viable fuel and fuel cell technology is a potential option for future public transport.

The international trials program has delivered the most extensive set of operational data for fuel cell vehicles and refuelling infrastructure – operated under real world conditions – compiled to-date. This has enabled on road performance and reliability comparisons between current generation fuel cell buses and conventional internal combustion engine buses.

These comparisons have shown where technical improvements are needed for hydrogen bus technologies and hydrogen production to become cost competitive in terms of capital and operating costs.

This trial has highlighted the challenges faced by hydrogen and fuel cells if they are to become a commonly used source of public transport energy. Primarily these relate to:

  • The capital cost and durability of the fuel cell systems and hydrogen infrastructure;
  • The cost of producing hydrogen from a renewable source; and
  • The ability to produce and distribute sufficient quantities of renewable hydrogen.

Solving these issues will be a challenge. The Government of Western Australia will continue to explore opportunities for the trial and application of emerging low emissions vehicle technologies in Perth so that we can continue to contribute to global efforts to address these challenges and ensure a sustainable transport energy future.

  EcoBus trial - educational resources

External Link Gravity Centre: A useful resource for both teachers and students
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Page last updated: Thu Feb 26 2015 9:33:41 AM