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London’s Hydrogen-Powered Buses Sidelined for Olympic Games

London’s fleet of hydrogen-powered buses that operate along its RV1 route have been grounded from service and replaced with conventional diesel vehicles for the duration of the Olympics, due to security concerns.

The buses’ hydrogen refueling station, which is located in East London, was approved in 2009 on a condition imposed by the Olympic Delivery Authority that the fuel would not be stored on site between July and mid-September 2012, London SE1 reported. Transport for London’s hydrogen buses started service along the RV1 route in December 2010.

Air Products, which supplies the hydrogen fuel, says the fleet has been a success. Earlier this month, the company announced the fleet has reached its 1,000th fueling and had traveled about 100,000 miles since it was first launched.

However, Bus and Coach magazine reports that the buses have been unavailable at least 50 percent of the time, due to maintenance issues and the sourcing of space parts. TfL is reportedly reviewing the maintenance contract.

The fleet was also temporarily pulled off the route and replaced with conventional diesel vehicles in June 2011 after one of the buses experienced a small electrical fire. The fire was not related to the hydrogen system, a TfL spokesman said at the time.

Meanwhile, five hydrogen fuel cell-powered taxis provided by the Hydrogen Transport for European Cities project, which aims to demonstrate hydrogen vehicles and refueling facilities, have been deployed in London to transport VIPs during the Olympic Games. The taxi fleet will refuel at an additional Air Products facility at Heathrow Airport.

Intelligent Energy provided the fuel cell systems to The London Taxi Company, which builds and supplies the London black cab.

Fears of a gas explosion have all but killed a proposed $3 million hydrogen vehicle fueling station at the San Francisco International Airport. Lease negotiations were broken off with the proposed operator Linde LLC last month.

Despite these concerns, Pike Research has projected more than 5,200 hydrogen fueling stations for cars, buses and forklifts will be operational by 2020, up from just 200 stations in 2010.

Hydrogen vehicles, including fuel cell and fuel cell plug-in hybrids, could hit a market share between 30 and 70 percent in 2050, according to preliminary results of an Oak Ridge National Laboratory study. However, that number will rely heavily on the launch of new infrastructure.

General Motors, for example, says it could move forward with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as early as 2016. The roll-out will hinge on infrastructure, such as new refueling stations.

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