Germany inaugurates world’s first fleet of hydrogen-powered trains

THE Germany opens this Wednesday, 24, a railway line that will work entirely with hydrogena world novelty and a step towards decarbonizing rail transport, despite the difficulty of accessing this new technology.

A fleet of 14 trains, sold by the French group Alstom for the Lower Saxony region, in the north of the country, will replace the current locomotives diesel to cover the 100 km of the line connecting the cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde and Buxtehud, in the vicinity of Hamburg.

“We are very proud to be able to commercially exploit this technology, which is a world first”, declared Alstom President Henri Poupart-Lafarge.

Hydrogen trains are a prime way to reduce CO2 emissions and replace diesel, which continues to fuel 20% of rail trips in Germany.

Alstom trains combine hydrogen stored on board with oxygen present in the air, thanks to a fuelwhich produces the electricity needed to guarantee the traction of the train.

The new fleet, which cost 93 million euros ($92.3 million), will avoid generating “4,400 tonnes of CO2 each year”, according to LNVG, which operates the network at a regional level.

Hydrogen station for trains in the city of Bremervörde, Germany;  country is inaugurating a railway line with trains powered entirely by hydrogen.
Hydrogen station for trains in the city of Bremervörde, Germany; country is inaugurating a railway line with trains powered entirely by hydrogen. Photograph: Carmen Jaspersen/AFP

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Designed in the French city of Tarbes and assembled in Salzgitter, central Germany, these trains have been commercially tested since 2018, with two of them regularly running.

Alstom has signed four contracts to deliver dozens of trains in Germany, France and on Italyand demand continues to increase.

In Germany alone, “between 2,500 and 3,000 diesel trains could be replaced by hydrogen trains,” Stefan Scharank, project manager at Alstom, told AFP.

“By 2035, between 15% and 20% of the European regional travel market will be able to run on hydrogen,” Alexandre Charpentier, a railway specialist at consultancy Roland Berger, told AFP. Alstom’s competitors also entered this market. The German group Siemens presented in May a model for the railway company Deutsche Bahn, with a view to commissioning in 2024.

But, in addition to the beautiful prospects, “there are real barriers”, warns the expert. Not only trains are looking for hydrogen, but the entire transport sector, road and air, as well as the heavy industry – steel and chemical – that rely on this technology to reduce CO2 emissions.

With its 2020 announcement of a €7 billion investment plan, Germany has the ambition to lead the way in hydrogen technology within a decade. However, both in the country and throughout Europe lack the necessary infrastructure for production or transport, which require colossal investments. “That’s why we don’t see that 100% of diesel trains will be replaced by hydrogen trains”, comments Charpentier.

On the other hand, hydrogen is not necessarily free of carbon. Only green hydrogen, made from renewable energies, is considered sustainable. At the same time, there are other manufacturing methods that are more common, but that emit greenhouse gases, as they are based on fossil fuels.

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Proof of the scarcity of the product is that the Lower Saxony line will initially use hydrogen resulting from the activity of other industries, such as chemistry.

The French research institute IFP, which specializes in energy issues, explains that currently hydrogen “comes 95% from the transformation of fossil fuels” and that almost half comes from the transformation of fossil fuels. natural gas. A double problem, due to the pollution caused by the use of gas and the difficulties in supplying this fossil raw material in the Europelargely dependent on Russian gas, which has become a political weapon with the war in ukraine.

“Policy decisions will have to prioritize which sector will or will not produce hydrogen”, says Charpentier, from Roland Berger. Also, Germany will have to buy this resource abroad to meet its needs. On Tuesday, the 23rd, Berlin signed an agreement with Toronto to import renewable hydrogen produced in the Canada from 2025. / AFP

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