With this in mind, I thought I'd pop along to see how things were going in the historic city of Bolzano in northern Italy. I was brought up to date with an operational hydrogen bus service serving the people of South Tyrol on the ground in the city.
It's all very well to talk about theories, hydrogen hubs and more recently ‘hydrogen valleys’’ but it's always good to see real action and with this in mind I checked out a facility that is up and running in the city.
Bolzano has had something of a chequered past, formerly part of Austria, now part of Italy and a new found sense of harmony prevails some thing that's not always evident in Europe right now. South Tyrol is partnering with a number of stakeholders to ensure it will be with a net zero future ahead.
The city sits in the centre of the Dolomite Alps and enjoys breathtaking scenery and wonderful air. In the 1930s the city industrialised on the basis of a nearby hydro power. station which continues to provide abundant green electricity to the area and is now being taken a step further through an integration with green hydrogen. The facility itself uses that electrical energy feedstock as a starting point but this is only serves as the baseline of much wider aspirations.
Bolzano’s development team sourced a number of both battery electric vehicles and first generation hydrogen busses which are currently being upgraded to the mark2 versions. The supporting infrastucture in the compound hosts a series of half megawatt electrolysers - splitting water into its constituent parts of oxygen and hydrogen.
Looking around the facility we see electrolysers sited with plenty of ventilation in a safe and workable environment an these are able to fuel the fleet of Hydrogen buses, which then traverse the streets of the nearby city with no tailpipe emissions, ensuring that the crisp mountain air remains pollution free.
Splitting water into hydrogen and then using a fuel cells to power the busses means exhaust emissions are nil. The point of use and the city is not stopping there which is good news for the inhabitants and the wider planet. The short term aspiration, I was informed, is for three further fueling stations in the environs of the city and then perhaps forming a part of a hydrogen motorway with the city of Bolzano where both Italian and German languages are signed and spoken, integral to it.
The South Tyrol/Alto Adige is planning a future hydrogen motorway, linking Northern Italy through the Brenner Pass to initially Austria and then Europe's largest economy, Germany.
The Bolzano fleet, according to Federica, is running well and promising for the future expansion. As with any transition from theory to practice there have been obviously teething issues which had been addressed and the fact that the ramp up is planned and that we've already moved to mark two buses is also a positive sign. Although the some of the infrastructure hails from both Poland and Germany it was pleasing walking around to see local companies such as WolfTank represented as part of the value chain because the opportunities for the transport sector and indeed the hydrogen economy can perhaps go the way of the wind industry and ensuring that local content is significant elements of the what will be an expensive energy transition.
I enjoyed my time at the hydrogen bus fueling depot and my thanks to Federica for being such a patient and engaging host as she showed me the resource. Good luck to the Institute in Bolzano.
The city itself is a delight and its passengers enjoy video presentations telling them about the future transport infrastructure and the operation hydrogen transport network as they enjoy their journeys in the city. Let's hope my local city Manchester can follow something of its lead with its own stated declaration be net zero by 2038.
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