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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Life Cycle Assessment of Environmental and Economic Impacts of Deploying Alternative Urban Bus Powertrain Technologies in the South Coast Air Basin

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To aid in addressing issues of air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the South Coast Air Basin, local transit agencies are considering a shift to battery electric buses (BEBs) and hydrogen fuel cell electric buses (FCEBs). Each of these options vary in their overall effectiveness in reducing different emission types over their life cycle, associated life cycle costs, ability to meet operational needs of transit agencies, and life cycle environmental footprint. This project carried out a life cycle-based analysis and comparison of the GHG emissions, criteria pollutant emissions, and other environmental externalities associated with BEBs and FCEBs, taking into account their ability to meet operational constraints of the Orange County Transportation Authority. From an environmental footprint perspective, this study found the following. First, both FCEBs and long-range BEBs have comparable impacts for global warming potential and particulate matter formation but when the FCEBs were fueled using renewable hydrogen. Second, using electricity from the current California grid mix to drive electrolysis to produce hydrogen for FCEBs produced only marginal benefits compared to current natural-gas fueled vehicles due to the low supply chain efficiency of this pathway. Third, the mining of precious metals is a major contributor to environmental footprint categories for both BEBs and FCEBs. Fourth, both FCEVs and long-range BEBs provide significant reductions in environmental footprint compared to conventional diesel and natural gas buses. From a cost perspective, this study found the following. First, with current-day cost inputs, FCEBs and BEBs have comparable total cost of ownership, but both have slightly higher costs than diesel and natural gas buses. Second, FCEBs have an equivalent total cost of ownership to BEBs when the electricity rate for charging is $0.24/kWh. Higher values render FCEBs as the cheaper option and lower values render BEBs as the cheaper option. Second, the total cost of ownership of these technologies is highly sensitive to electricity costs, and the rapid evolution of the electricity system has strong implications for the economic comparison between BEBs and FCEBs. Overall, this study finds that while both FCEBs and BEBs provide life-cycle environmental benefits, further cost reductions in electricity rates and initial purchase costs are needed to achieve total cost of ownership parity with conventional bus powertrains. With the rapid evolution of the electricity system and falling costs for renewable electricity resources, these cost reductions may occur in the near future.

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