back to article Mayor Ken buys hydrogen buses for London

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has placed a £10m order for 10 hydrogen-fuelled red buses to run on the capital's streets. The buses will use the hydrogen to generate electricity, and storage batteries and electric motors will replace a mechanical transmission to achieve maximum fuel efficiency. Five of the vehicles will burn …


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  1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    I'm staying out of London!

    "storing the explosive gas in high-pressure roof tanks"

    Anyone remember the london bus and tube bombings?

    And the Zeppelins of the Hindenburg Disaster?

    Now add the two together and pray you are not in London when it happens....

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Seems to cost quite a lot, I wonder if they thought about using trolleybusses? (Basically a bus that uses an overhead power cable.) I can't imagine they'd cost nearly as much. You would only need to convert the major bus routes to have quite a significant effect and no rails means no digging up the road. The maintenance would probably cost a lot less too, as there are far less moving parts in a (purely) electrically powered vehicle.

  3. andy rock
    Thumb Down

    Is Red Ken turning into Green Ken?

    is he fuck.

    token gesture, at best. i wonder where this 'fleet' will operate. probably in a nice, rich part of London. where all the politians work, no doubt.

  4. Steven Jones

    Practicality of Hydrogen as a fuel

    There are lots of people who talk glibly about the hyrdrogen economy. I have a supicion that many are just obsessed by this vision of producing only water. This stuff is in need of a reality check - it's far from clear that hydrogen is practical as an energy store. The whole cycle of production, storage and distribution is bedevilled by a lot of thermodynamically inefficient stages. Yes, using a fuel cell to generate electricity direct is notably more efficient than burning it (or anything else) in a combustion engine (although finding enough precious metals to build the things iby the hundreds of millions is going to get tricky), but the production/distribution/storage is full of thermodynamic inefficiencies. Just compressing hydrogen to 800bar uses 13% of its energy content and liquefaction 30%..

    This is a nice little paper on the subject

    The claim is that the consumer might only see 25% of the energy used in making the hydrogen in the first place.

  5. Sceptical Bastard

    Ken - his true colours

    Quote: "Is Red Ken starting to turn into Green Ken?"

    No. He is remaining that c*nt Ken.

    As usual, Livingston's absurd posturing (and it is is scientifically-illiterate posturing in this case) will cost Londoners millions of pounds and inflate transport costs in the capital.

    With his 'bendy buses' taking up miles of road space and threatening cyclists and pedestrians at every sharp turn, his so-called 'congestion' tax now stretching halfway to Cornwall, and his implacable defence of Commissioner 'Shoot-to-lie' Blair, it is high time the nasal-voiced newt-loving parasytic creep was hauled to Tyburn to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

    Red, green or shit-coloured, Livingstone remains a rebartitive hateful little bastard.

  6. Laurie


    Hang on a mo, what about suicide bombers? Our beloved Mayor has just made it possible for the jihadi menace to multiply the power of their puny IEDs by shedloads!

    Maybe the transport wallahs will impose airport style security (with the associated delays et al) before we're allowed to boad the bus.

    Just when you thought a crappy service couldn't get any worse... Bah!

  7. E


    Go Ken go. This has to start somewhere, and Ken seems to have the stones to do it.

    Now, what kind of icon ought I to attach to this message, so that people will be able to know what I just said?

  8. Richard Green

    The pro-terrorism bus..!

    It's barely been a few years since the bomb-on-a-bus incident in London, and now they're proposing to make the buses explodable themselves...?

    Dear god, all the terrorists would need now is a sniper rifle and an incendiary bullet.

    Great plan, Ken!

    I for one will NOT be travelling on these buses.

  9. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Greenwash from Red Ken

    Ken's precious Hindenbuses will burn hydrogen made by cracking natural gas - which means they'll be less efficient than regular vehicles whilst still consuming fossil fuels.

    I love the bit in the Reuters reports that they will reduce CO2 emissions in the capital - true, but only because the CO2 is released elsewhere. Annoyingly its a gas, so its warming effect will be felt everywhere, unless Ken can come up with a charging mechanism for any molecules crossing the North Circular.

    It's be a shame to split Ken and Chavez, they make such a lovely pair of swivel-eyed demagogues.

  10. Edward Noad

    Bring Back The Tram!

    Nice idea Fraser. No handy explosive tanks for people to blow up, no vehicles running around full of heavy batteries to reduce their performance or increase the environmental/economic TCO, and it's not like Ken can get any more unpopular by suggesting we dig up a quarter of the roads in London to lay (relay?) tram lines.

    On top of which, you can centralise energy production to increase it's efficiency. I imagine you wouldn't lose 75% of the input energy that way, not if our trains are anything to go by.

    On second thoughts, maybe I shouldn't be drawing and kind of parallels with our trains...

  11. Ferry Boat


    You get my vote. This is just such a simple and logical idea. Why do people want tram systems which take ages to create, cost loads and cause lots of mess during construction? Especially in city centres trolley buses would be best. Just paint the road a different colour, add a few bollards and string up some wires. Instant transport system that's green at the point of delivery. I remember the trolley buses of old Kathmandu town so I do.

  12. David Austin


    If gets a few more of those f88king bendy buses off of the bloody streets, I'm all for it.

    As the bendy buses spontaneously combust on their own accord, carrying fuel cells will neither increase or decrease the risks:

  13. Anonymous Coward

    what imbecile pays 1mill each for exploding buses

    oh yes, one that isn't using cash from his own pockets,

    and what happens when these expensive "bombs on wheels" go wrong?

    is he paying for return shipping to the US?

    the only people, (and i use that term very loosely), that will benefit from this, is those bloody immigrant terrorist Bastards (that btw are already here) so no matter how many billion these incompetent fools spend on beefing security, wont make the slightest difference to any of them.

    and anyone who needs 28 days to get answers from a suspect should be shot, who's doing the questioning, Mr Blobby?

    wtf is Jack Bauer when you need him?

    well said Richard, Laurie, and Sceptical B, I couldn't agree more

  14. Stephen Gray


    Elecricty comes in brown paper packages then? In order to generate the power for trolley buses fossil fuels are burnt at something called a power station, maybe you forgot about those pesky things?

  15. Mark


    Much as the idea of electric trolley buses sounds great, they have them here in Geneva and yet they still use a lot of diesel buses as well.

    Apart from the fact that they need the wires on each and every route you want to use them on, they still have to have a second engine as a backup if the power fails or if the route is changed due to roadworks etc... The wiring is ugly and intrusive, you either have to put posts up to attach the wires to or drill holes in all the buildings along the sides of the road. Changing the route of a bus becomes an major exercise in itself because the new wiring takes a quite fair amount of time to set up.

    On top of that maintenance of the wiring isn't without its own costs, the wires wear out, need re-tensioning and other maintenance, and don't think for a moment that pure electric vehicles have much zero maintenance costs. I'm sure these extra costs are more than equivalent to the money saved by not having to maintain the diesel engines.

    Even if they are the same price or less you still need to have a source of green electricity, the buses in Geneva are powered by hydroelectricity, There are no comparable sources of green power near London.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Practicality ...

    Steven is absolutely right.

    We need to consider the total energy footprint and environmental impact of transport over the entire lifetime of the vehicle in question.

    Hydrogen is expensive -- both monetarily and in energy usage -- to manufacture, store and distribute. Battery and fuel cell technologies have similar problems with the added problems of how to handle recycling the toxic waste and byproducts of expended power units.

    I'm all for progress, but spending $2M/each for 10 rolling Hindenburg behemoths is a poor use of beleaguered Londoners congestion tax, urm sorry, *charge* money.

  17. Parax

    sniper rifle and an incendiary bullet?


    Hydrogen needs to be mixed with oxygen to combust. perhaps you think that incendury bullets are filled with liquid oxygen? well they are not! perhaps you think that with a hole in the pressurised hydrogen tank that the oxygen will rush in, it wont the hydrogen rushes out. perhaps you think a jet of gas and an air mix is explosive, two words, Bunsen Burner! hardly a terrorist weapon!

    The Hindenburg burned (being canvas!) like a tent would. it did not explode. if it had there really would not be any film footage!

    Hydrgen is only explosive when mixed with the RIGHT quantity of air, so dont keep these busses inside a depot if they leek! otherwise it just burns like any other flamable gas. like on your cooker/cigarette lighter etc.

    In order to get any dangerous combustion you would need to remove the tank entirly instantly, and since they dont pop like ballons, the risk is just not there.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hydrogen Economy

    Hydrogen is a perfect energy store the Japanese space program is powered by hydrogen produced by a hydroelectric plant on a small island (you can read about it in reg archive) and shipped to the mainland, it is clean and renewable, if only they could ship it over here... for somereason people dont like the idea of hydrogen supertankers. but hey they dont pollute the sea when they spill!

    Iceland would be a perfect place for a nice geothermally powered hydrogen plant. Africa would be perfect for solor powered hydrogen plants.. but I doubt well see it in our lifetime.

  19. vishal vashisht

    Ummm democratically elected?

    "increasingly-totalitarian Venezuelan strongman socialist Hugo Chavez"? From what I remember he has been democratically voted in 3 times and has allowed a television channel that helped organise the coup to carry on broadcasting (albiet on cable rather than public airwaves). The reason that he is described as such is that instead of the 11% pitance the oil companies pay venezuala, he is asking for 16% on new finds. Oh yeah, he believes in free medical care and publicly owned infrastructure which translates to cheap water and electricity for the poor and no massive profits for foreign companies.

    Maybe he would be more "democratic" if he did a bolivia and privatize the water, let the US company buying it put up the cost, make collecting rain water illegal and shot anyone who complained!

  20. Jon Green

    Hydrogen in high-pressure roof tanks

    And the first time a H2-powered bus takes a wrong turn and hits a bridge? Lots of nice sparks as metal scrapes along metal or stone, plus hydrogen, plus atmospheric oxygen?

    What a way to take down a railway line as well as a bus!

  21. Gianni Straniero

    Hindenbuses, I think not.

    Common misconception: the hydrogen in the Hindenburg caused the fire. A nine-year-old UCLA press release will relieve you of your ignorance on this subject:

    For the impatient, it turns out that the doping compound used on the Hindenburg's canvas included iron oxide, cellulose acetate and aluminum powder -- remarkably similar to the contents of the space shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters. A static charge which built up as the vessel crossed the Atlantic was earthed when it moored, apart from a panel which was electrically isolated from its neighbours. The resultant potential difference caused an electrical arc, igniting the compound.

    This is essentially why the ill-fated airship did not burn with a squeaky pop.

  22. Dale


    Trolley buses with overhead power lines are nice, but they completely spoil the fun of wildly diverted bus routes every time Thames Water needs to dig up the roads to proudly stop thousands of olympic swimming pools from leaking away.

  23. Grant Ozolins

    I hope it's bye-bye to noisy diesel buses

    Given the huge amount of noise and particulate pollution on London's streets, any attempt get some clunking diesel-burners off the roads has got to be welcome. I for one applaud the move. You people who are whingeing about the cost (surely recent multibillion pound government IT failures should be more deserving of your ire), danger (very small as you all should know by now), Ken Livingstone (Boris? don't make me laugh) and so on, get a grip.

    This is a step forward, one that is long overdue. I find it sad that so many probably IT literate readers post hysterical reactionary garbage in reaction to what is surely an encouraging development for a city that's so reliant on public transport.

    What we need to go with this is a new generation of nuclear power plants that can also create hydrogen as a byproduct of high-temperature reaction. Or to import it from Iceland when they start exporting their geothermal energy as hydrogen, surely much better than propping up dodgy regimes in the middle east with ever greater amounts of petrodollars.

  24. BitTwister

    @Sceptical Bastard

    > With his 'bendy buses' taking up miles of road space

    Surely "self-igniting bendy buses"?

  25. Ciaran Tracey

    @Jon Green

    Yep, you've got the oxygen, hydrogen and ignition source, but you would also need containment to create an explosion - the only fuel that has mixed with the air will be outside the tank not inside, so you'll just get a fireball instead.

  26. Danny Thompson

    Energy is a bit of a constant

    It seems that no matter what is proposed all that is happening is that we're pushing the energy problem around the place but not actually solving anything at all. The fact is that for as long as we have to shift shit-loads of people from one place to another twice a day, five days a week, just to make a meagre living then we are going to consume energy and produce these so-called greenhouse gasses in abundance.

    Unless we come up with some miraculous new energy technology everything we try will be futile in global emissions terms. If its not a car pumping out CO2 from its zorst then it'll be something else. The problem we have to crack is how to create energy without emissions - and so far we can't. Well, not without Nuclear Power - but everyone is so up their own arse about that stuff we're not going to see a new one of those in the UK in our lifetime!

    And so, idiots who govern us will spawn ridiculous ideas such as these Hindenbusses (that has got to stick!). One has to wonder about the Carbon Footprint it is going to create just to make and transport those over here. But then again TfL, under Livingstone, cause more pollution with their zealous anti-car road and traffic planning policies - see how much is put in place to slow/stop private transport from moving. All those lovely gasses belching out at four-way red lights for instance. Good Green credential TfL, not!

  27. Chris G Silver badge


    Containment is required to produce an explosion but an explosive container can be almost anything, a room full of natural gas or Calor gas, it just depends on the relative rate of expansion of an ignited volume of gas/air mix to the container it is in. if the mix is burning and expanding fast enough and there is enough of it, it will stretch (literally) it's container to bursting point, which is the point when you get an interesting bang (Depending on your relative position as an observer). Bottled gas explosions are one of the commonest causes of written off caravans and leisure boats. Try leaving the gas on in your kitchen for half an hour and then go light a match, it's definately going to remove more than your eyebrows.

    From what I have seen of the levels and quality of maintainance on Stagecoach managed buses I think there is a good chance of enough hydrogen leaking out somewhere to start some fireworks, particularly as those tiny, sneaky hydrogen atoms are difficult to keep inside ANY container.

    Last thing . How the hell does Red Ken get elected in the first place? Are the only people in London who go out and vote complete cretins?

  28. Sceptical Bastard

    @ Danny Thompson

    Quote: "...we're pushing the energy problem around the place but not actually solving anything..."

    Zackley, my friend. Which is why I referred to Mayor Kun as scientifically illiterate.

    As to 'Hindenbusses', remember you read it first in El Reg! Spread the word, Vultures.

    PS You're not THE Danny Thompson are you? Thought not. ;)

  29. Philip Lord


    Love the name! Damn Fraser, I wanted to get to mention trolleybuses first (didn't get to this item 'til late). Trolleybuses are the only way forward - tried and trusted technology, clean and quiet, great acceleration up hills and can leave the overhead to get around obstructions and the like under the power of batteries. BTW some early Cardiff trollies were named Doodlebugs due to the noise they made - sorry no IT or Paris Hilton connections.

  30. Mark Aggleton

    @Philip Lord

    Google trolleybus and Paris Hilton and you get 11700 results...

  31. Martin Lyne


    Don't use busses that will in some small way try to save the world, in case the terrorists, who have been SO ACTIVE of late (so much so we require new legislation every week), decide to shoot them. Do you think the tanks are tin-foil? Is it a great deal harder than making an IED and sitting on said bus?

    Stop being inflammatory (ha!) and consider the fact that this token gesture might help others follow suit, helping the hydrogen economy, hopefully causing clean electricity-production necessity to rise. Or carry on using your cars with one driver and no passengers and making traffic and pollution rife :)

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Amnesia or recycled nuus

    There was a fuel cell bus on the road RV1 to be precise for a while and I have travelled in it a couple of times. Nothing new here juct like the Vaxhaull bus terminus that leaks when it rains and barely generates enough power to keep the leds that indicate the power level. Ken just cant stop himself from spending on toys. Even his office has been blighted by solar cells on the roof. He is not practical.

  33. John Chadwick

    Isn't this an experiment then?

    Quite appart from the fact that hydrogen power currently is far more thermodynamically inefficient than any other method of portable energy propultion. I'd guess that the reason there are only 10 busses on order is because LRT want to find out how viable they are to use, are they really going to be a sensible alternative to say - bio-diesel, trams and trollys.

    I think a big point is DfT seems to think Fuel Cells are they way forward as a cheap source of power, and Ken and other Politicians seem to think so too, to the extent that DfT are using this, very young an immature technology as an excuse not to invest in Electricly powerd public transport which is Capital intensive, it costs money to put up wires, but once they are up, it doesn't matter how you generate the electricity, the vehicles all use it just the same way. It's also relatively efficient to transport along wires.

    The transport press has been banging on about the stupidity of Hydrogen Cells as a method of propultion for public transport for some time.

    If we want independently powered vehicles, then Hydrogen Cells are one method that might apply, and it should be investigated, and LRT are the right people to do it, it just isn't the whole answer.

  34. Anonymous Coward


    So many people thinking they can violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    The Stone Age hasn't even arrived yet.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    "gives off small amounts of nitrous oxide"!!!!

    I understand that this the anaesthetic is also known as laughing as the Hindenbusses trundle towards destruction everyone will be smiling in a state of euphoria........

  36. William Clark
    Thumb Up

    Hindenburg did not explode - hydrogen safer than petrol

    Half of the passengers on the Hindeburg survived - none of them were blown to bits and the fireball went upwards away from the poor falling people - jet liner disasters though rarer usually have a much higher death toll.

    Hydrogen is explosive and burns nicely if it leaks an ignites, however it does not explode if it leaks - it needs to be nicely mixed with oxygen to go bang.

    Also if if does leak, it floats upwards and away unlike say petrol or propane which will hang around creating a nice explosive mixture so yes it has its problems but it is not as dangerous as the ignorant posts here suggest.

    If hydrogen could be readily generated from solar powered electrolysis then maybe it is a good idea and I think trialling 10 hydrogen buses is a brave idea - at least then they can be assesed on reality rather than a load of idiots on a discussion forum.

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