Gare H2 de Linde à Oakland, California

Hydrogen buses for cross-border public transport – a reflection.

Paul Bristow, Klaus Röhrich, Harald Wirth, 25 November 2021

The technology around the use of hydrogen is advancing rapidly. Today, the hydrogen bus has autonomy of around 300 km, enough for one day of operation. Multiple projects of transformation of the public transport are already realized. Why not use these quiet and efficient vehicles to turn the Line F between Cointrin and Gex into green transport?

The hydrogen fuel-cell electric bus (“hydrogen bus”)

The first hydrogen bus ran in Germany in 1997. Currently, the most frequently used vehicles are standard buses with a length of about 12 m. There are a few dozen manufacturers worldwide, including several in Europe: Safra (FR), van Hool (BE) and Mercedes-Benz (DE). The first articulated fuel cell buses with a length of 18 m were put into public service in 2019.

Refueling stations are available from several suppliers, in France in particular from industrial gas suppliers such as L’Air Liquide or Linde, but also from specialized companies such as McPhy or Ataway.

In December 2019, eight hydrogen-powered Van Hool Exquicity buses were put into service in Pau on the Fébus HSTB. The cost, vehicles and stations, amounted to 13 M€. With the order of five BUSINOVA buses by Auxerre (EOLBUS project) for line 1 of the LEO network, the French manufacturer Safra adds to the contracts already won in Lens, Versailles, Le Mans and Toulouse airport. Several French cities have expressed interest in this technology: Rouen and Toulouse have concrete projects. Other projects concerning hydrogen buses:

  • Châteauroux (project Hyber : 6 buses of 12m and 18m)
  • Dijon (project DMSE 2 : 27 buses of 12m and 18m)
  • Le Mans (project H2Ouest : 10 buses for SETRAM)
  • Montpellier (project MH2 : 21 hydrogen buses for 2 routes)
  • Vert-le-Grand, Essone (project Perle : three buses)
  • Lyon (project Tethys : two hydrogen buses)
  • Chambéry (project Zero Emission Valley : two hydrogen buses)

The hydrogen bus has many advantages:

  • The hydrogen bus has autonomy (around 300 km) for one day of operation. It will not be necessary to install any facilities along the route (see TOSA/Geneva); the hydrogen bus can be used any route. This is particularly interesting for a cross-border line.
  • The advantage of hydrogen buses over battery buses is the short refuelling time of less than 20 minutes (7 min. for the Mercedes-Benz Citaro), combined with a relatively long range.
  • Hydrogen (chemical symbol H2) is clean. Emissions (fine particles, carbon, NOx) are strongly reduced with H2 buses (as with electric buses). The noise pollution is also reduced (-14 decibel at 20 km/h according to a study by the University of Stuttgart in 2018).
  • Hydrogen, if produced with renewable energy, will be renewable.

However, there are disadvantages. The acquisition cost is higher for hydrogen buses (about 625,000 euros) compared to battery electric buses (about 550,000 euros, depending on the capacity of the battery chosen). The acquisition costs of a diesel bus are about 250,000 euros. Added to this is the service station (figures collected in 2020).

The European project H2REF deals with the “Development of a cost effective and reliable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle refuelling system”. At completion, the global cost of a hydrogen station would go from 1.3 million euros to 950,000 euros. The French government recently launched a “plan hydrogène» which will provide 7 billion euros until 2030. This plan includes the installation of 100 refill stations by 2023 and between 400 and 1,000 by the end of the decade. (L’Argus, January 2021)

Line F: Genève Cornavin (CH) – Gex ZA Aiglette (FR)

The Line F (Gex – Ferney-Voltaire – Geneva Cornavin, approx. 14.9 km) has been operating since 1997. It will be replaced by the Bus à Haut Niveau de Service (BHNS) which should be implemented in 2021. A bus of Line F makes about 9 round trips in 18 hours of service, corresponding to about 270 km per day.

At present, it is an articulated bus (18 m Citaro G Diesel Euro 6) with 46 seats, 117 standing places and space for a wheelchair, i.e. 163 places. The diesel consumption of the Citaro is around 100 litters / 300 km, in the city more like 60 litters / 100 km. The Line F offers, during peak hours, a service every 20 minutes between Gex and Cornavin and every 10 minutes between Ferney-Voltaire and Cornavin, i.e. a minimum of 12 cars to cover also the off-peak hours.

Comparison for one operational day (12m bus, 300 km travelled)

Consumption – Capacity – Emissions
Diesel Bus

(Citaro LE, 2019)

Electric Bus

(eCitaro, 2020)

Hydrogen Bus

(Citaro BZH or Businova, 2021)

80 – 150 litres Diesel

3-4 litres AdBlue

312 – 516 KWh (summer – winter)


15* – 40 Kg H2
260 l Diesel

27 l AdBlue

243 KWh

(146 – 441 KWh possible)

35 Kg @ 350 bar (Citaro)

30 Kg @ 350 bar (Businova)

(700 bar in the future)

213 – 399 Kg CO2
710 – 1330 g CO2 /km
16 – 41 Kg CO2
52 – 138 g CO2 /km
(50 à 80 g CO2 /KWh in France)
9 – 48 Kg CO2
30 – 160 g CO2 /km
(H2 production: 50 KWh/ Kg; with wind-solar renewable energies : 12-40 g CO2/KWh)

* Operating on different routes in Dublin, the 12 m Caetano H2.CityGold bus covered 3000 kilometres with an average hydrogen consumption of 5 kg per 100 kilometres. This is a great performance since it was achieved at a time (autumn-winter) when the buses were fully heated ( January 2021).


Compared to the diesel bus, the hydrogen bus has the advantages of low pollution, noise reduction and use of renewable energies without losing autonomy and refueling time, the defaults of the electric bus. One could very well imagine a replacement over time program for the buses of the BHNS lines, today still the F line, in Ferney-Voltaire.

A service station with an electrolyzer for hydrogen production should be powered by green electricity (photovoltaic panels). Such stations could be integrated in the ZAC Ferney-Genève Innovation (half way) and in Gex with the Régie Départementale des Transports de l’Ain, with the Centre Technique of the town (French end of the route) or in the Technoparc at Saint Genis-Pouilly (bus depot). Produced with solar electricity, the hydrogen will be 100% “made in Pays de Gex”, bringing us closer to the 2050 Net Zero objective.

Let’s go !

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