LOW CARBON FUTURE INITIATIVE FINALIST: Auckland Transport – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus

3 Jun 2022

In 2018, Auckland Transport detailed its strategy to transition public transport to zero emissions following Mayor Phil Goff’s pledge to make the city centre’s streets fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

The Low Emission Bus Roadmap identified three recommended technologies – battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and re-powering the existing diesel fleet. 

AT began its low-emission technology trials with two battery electric buses that year with encouraging results. But the trials also revealed that 12 per cent of bus trips would need an alternative form of low-emission technology for full decarbonisation of the network. 

Hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) technology offers such an alternative and aligns well with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2019 hydrogen green paper.

Ground-breaking trial

AT partnered with Ports of Auckland on a hydrogen demonstration project to understand the operational performance and emission reductions from hydrogen-powered buses. It ordered Australasia’s first ever HFC bus, and a two-year operational trial began in April 2021. 

The trial bus was designed, engineered and built in Christchurch by Global Bus Ventures specifically to cater for New Zealand urban bus requirements. AT commissioned WSP consultants to conduct a global benchmarking study and to set key performance indicators and help define success criteria. 

The trial is co-funded by EECA, Waka Kotahi and Auckland Council. Ports of Auckland is the refuelling partner. Howick & Eastern operates the bus for AT. 

Howick to Britomart route

Since July 2021 the HFC bus has been used in full passenger service on the high-frequency number 70 route from Howick to Britomart in Auckland, in parallel with a diesel and a battery electric bus of similar sizes and axle configurations. This enables comparisons of the three technologies’ operational performances and operating costs. 

WSP’s study shows HFC technology’s operational efficiency on longer routes to be on-par with existing diesel fuel engines, supporting AT’s strategic decision to focus on hydrogen fuel cell buses on high-frequency routes to complement battery electric buses on lower-frequency routes.


In the short time from its launch to the end of 2021, the trial has provided a variety of benefits, including zero operational CO2 emissions.

The data so far indicates the one trial bus could result in an average annual reduction of 7.3 tonnes of CO2e. Replacing the 12 per cent of services that can’t be operated by battery electric buses could reduce emissions by 10,373 tonnes. 

Auckland’s recorded CO2 emissions were 86,443 tonnes in 2020/21, and its population is projected to reach 2.3 million by 2043. There is an urgent need to accelerate public transport service improvements, including sustainability and inclusivity as essential aspects of growth. 

The HFC bus initiative shows New Zealand can be a driver of change in the world’s use of rapidly transforming modes of sustainable transport technologies. It increases the country’s competitiveness in developing hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems and puts it amongst the global leaders. 

The Low Carbon Future Initiative Award category is sponsored by BusinessNZ Energy Council