Rolling stock leasing company director cites Alstom’s trial of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered train in Germany as a potential option for UK railways

 

Coradia iLint is Alstom’s new CO2-emission-free regional train and alternative to diesel power. It is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell

 

Hydrogen could provide free fuel for trains in the future, according to a director at rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook. Olivier André, Porterbrook’s commercial director, also said the technology could become a live option during the 15-year span of the next Wales and Borders franchise.

With Britain’s electrification programme having run into difficulties, many new diesel or bi-mode trains have been ordered. Porterbrook hopes to continue leasing electric multiple units, surplus to requirements in the London commuter area, by fitting them with diesel engines for operation on non-electrified lines in northern England and Wales.

There is always a risk of diesel going out of fashion and becoming unwanted sometime in the future, and I think hydrogen is probably a good solution

However, André told a committee of the National Assembly for Wales that diesel did not have a guaranteed future. He commented: “When we developed this bi-mode train, diesel electric, there is always a risk of diesel going out of fashion and becoming unwanted sometime in the future, and I think hydrogen is probably a good solution.”

He said surplus renewable energy from the National Grid at night or in off-peak hours could be used to produce hydrogen and “power trains for free, basically”.

He also said: “I know that Alstom, a train manufacturer, is running a prototype in Germany because it happens that on that line in Germany, at the two extremities of the line, there’s a chemical plant that’s producing hydrogen as a waste product. So they use that to power the trains, and it works.

“I have asked the technical team to do some more work on the capacity and performance of hydrogen because apparently you need quite a lot of volume to carry the hydrogen on board, and the range is quite limited and the power is quite limited. So I’m not quite up to speed on what the performance would be, but I think in principle it is a very, very good idea.”

He was asked if hydrogen trains could become a live option during the course of the next Wales and Borders franchise. “I think so,” he replied.

Last year the UK Government rejected a bid from First Cymru, Tata Steel and other partners for capital grants from a £30m funding scheme for greener buses. First Cymru’s bid was based on using waste hydrogen from Port Talbot steelworks to fuel buses in the area.

Alstom announced last month that its prototype Coradia iLint passenger train had successfully performed an 80kph (37mph) test run on a test track in Lower Saxony. Previously the train had undergone static testing and verification, confirming the safety of its battery, fuel tank and fuel cell. Further tests are due before the unit carries its first paying passengers early next year. Four German states have given Alstom letters of intent for 60 hydrogen trains in total.

The test runs in Lower Saxony use hydrogen generated as a by-product of industrial processes. In the longer term, Alstom aims to support production of hydrogen using wind power. Steam and condensed water are the only emissions from the hydrogen propulsion system. Alstom claims to be the first railway manufacturer to offer a zero-emission alternative for mass transit trains.

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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