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Electric buses? Your questions. Our answers.

On 7th November we posted something about electric buses in Hamburg on our Facebook page and Instagram feed.

“In ten years from now, only electric buses will be driving on Hamburg’s streets. With this ambitious goal in mind, HOCHBAHN and VHH - Verkehrsbetriebe Hamburg-Holstein are taking steps all the time towards an era of greater sustainability for HVV and Hamburg. You can already get a glimpse at Hamburg’s green future right now by travelling on one of over 30 e-buses. Booking a ticket is quick and easy using our hvv switch app.”

We received some questions about this on Facebook that we’d like to answer here. In all honesty, some points can only be explained or answered by referring to other pages or sources. There is some technical jargon involved. But still we think that’s preferable to no explanation or answer at all. Take a read for yourself.

Your question: How is it possible to know that the batteries run on green electricity too? Are cables laid especially for this? After all, it all flows into the main grid too.


Our answer: Correct: the charging current for Hamburg’s electric buses also flows through Hamburg’s electricity network. This article explains how the sourcing of green electricity from European power grids works.Since 2019, HOCHBAHN has been procuring 100% high-quality certified green electricity. In doing so, HOCHBAHN is actively supporting the expansion of renewable energy plants and does not add any CO2 emissions to the climate impact of HOCHBAHN. More information about HOCHBAHN’s electricity procurement can be found on page 26 of the current Hamburger Hochbahn AG Company Report. VHH’s electric buses are also powered by 100% green electricity. You can read more about this on the VHH website.

Your question: What about the air conditioning in the buses? Will they still be operated using diesel generators?


Our answer: No. The air conditioning systems in the battery-powered buses are electrically powered.

Your question: Where are the raw materials for the batteries sourced? Are sustainable energy sources used to produce the new vehicles in a sustainable way?


Our answer: One of the challenges of e-mobility is the sustainable production of raw materials. In this year’s tender for up to 500 battery-powered buses, HOCHBAHN therefore requested detailed information on sustainability risks in the battery supply chain for the first time and took this information into account when awarding the contract. The aim here is to ensure transparency along the battery supply chain right through to the raw material mines. Within the scope of the tender, transparency was achieved including when it came to how the cells are produced.

Attaining complete disclosure right up to the extraction sites often still poses a challenge. That said though, a start has been made to establishing a long-term dialogue with bus manufacturers aimed at further developing sustainability requirements in the coming years. HOCHBAHN is also actively promoting the development and harmonisation of sustainability criteria when it comes to vehicle procurement in public transport at both a national and international level. More details about HOCHBAHN’s responsibility for the supply chain of battery-powered buses can be found on page 38 of the current Hamburger Hochbahn AG Company Report and on the HOCHBAHN Blog.

Your question: Are the batteries produced from recycled sources?


Our answer: With regard to the production of drive batteries, but also rechargeable batteries in smartphones and mobile computers, we are not currently aware of any production methods that rely exclusively on recycled materials.

Your comment: With this whole discussion it is hugely important not only to factor in the gas emissions from the exhaust but to consider every aspect as a whole from the initial manufacturing process onwards! The statement that electric vehicles are emission-free is simply incorrect and can be put under the category “green washing”!


Our answer: When it comes to buses in everyday regional service, the actual service lifespan of a bus is of key importance. Their high mileage means it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the case of battery-driven motors – even when emissions involved in the battery production are taken into account. For those who wish to delve deeper into this subject, we recommend the current study published by the European Directorate-General for Climate Action. Since 2019, responsibility for indirect emissions from drive power also applies to Hamburg’s public buses. For more information about HOCHBAHN’s electricity procurement, please refer to page 26 of the current Hamburger Hochbahn AG Company Report.

Your question: But isn’t hydrogen the better alternative due to the batteries? I’ve heard that producing batteries is extremely harmful to the environment.


Our answer: Every drive and propulsion technology has an impact on the environment during its production, usage and end-of-life phases. So it’s important that comparisons are made using all the same parameters for overall values. For those of you who want to learn more about this subject, we recommend the current study published by the European Directorate-General for Climate Action.

Here is one finding from the study though: “Electric vehicles already have a significantly lower impact on climate over their entire life cycle in the EU than conventional vehicles with combustion engines”.

When it comes to buses in everyday regional service, the actual service life of a bus is of key importance. Their high mileage means it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the case of battery-driven motors – even when emissions involved in the battery production are taken into account. Beyond that, the serial production of suitable hydrogen fuel cell buses that meet the requirements for use in Hamburg is eagerly awaited. It would ensure that we can continue to offer top-level quality even with emission-free mobility. But they are not yet on the market.

Your question: So it is fine to produce a ton of battery waste?


Our answer: Batteries are not simply thrown away. They are subject to strict requirements governing their disposal. More attention needs to be paid to the issue of recycling batteries in the future. Our aim here must be to recycle and reuse raw materials once they have been extracted.

Your question: And buy thousands of new batteries every year?


Our answer: In actual fact, Hamburg’s transport companies do not buy buses in that kind of quantity.

Your question: What became of the fuel cell buses? Or do they also count as e-buses?


Our answer: At the moment there are no suitable hydrogen fuel cell buses ready for serial production. In the past, there were no production vehicles in Hamburg, but rather prototypes. Those in Hamburg up to now have been one-off prototypes. The objective now is to convert the entire bus fleet.

Your question: What will happen to the old buses? Will they be deployed in other countries instead?


Our answer: The old diesel buses are sold by HOCHBAHN and other companies once their operational lifespan is over. Other transport companies, both in Germany and around Europe, sometimes continue to use them for many years.

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