Germany debuts world’s 1st fleet of hydrogen-powered trains

Germany began operating the world’s first fleet of hydrogen-powered passenger trains. In total, there are 14 vehicles that will replace diesel locomotives on the 100 km of railway lines that link the cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervorde and Buxtehude, in the northern region of the country.

A new hydrogen refueling system allows each locomotive to travel longer distances with low noise, emitting only steam and condensed water during operation, an essential feature to meet the decarbonisation targets of the German rail sector.

“Clean hydrogen-powered trains have become a promising way to reduce carbon emissions in the medium term, progressively replacing the diesel fuel that still fuels 20% of trips across Germany”, explains the CEO of Alstom – the train manufacturer. — Henri Poupart-Lafarge.

“Almost” zero emissions

The diesel-free trains, which are part of the new German fleet, mix the hydrogen contained in an on-board tank with the oxygen present in the air. A fuel cell installed on the roof of the vehicles produces all the electricity needed to pull the cars.

Hydrogen-powered trains have a range of 100 km (Image: Reproduction/Alstom)

According to experts, only the so-called “green hydrogen” is in fact carbon-free, with its molecules being separated in a chemical process known as electrolysis. In the case of German trains, the hydrogen used to fuel the locomotives is a by-product derived from the transformation of fossil fuels, such as natural gas.

“Our expectation is that this element will be produced by electrolysis in Bremervorde from the third year, in a solar or wind farm designed for this purpose. Initially, this measure should increase the proportion of use of “green hydrogen” on trains to 35%”, adds Lafarge.

Other initiatives

The German group Siemens, in partnership with the railway company Deutsche Bahn, also has a similar project. Tests with fully hydrogen-powered trains — with approximately 800 km of autonomy — should start from 2024 and last for at least another year.

Although Germany announced in 2020 an ambitious plan to become a leader in hydrogen production technologies within a decade, the lack of infrastructure on the European continent and dependence on gas produced in Russia could delay the development of a rail transport free of fuel. carbon.

“Now we have to establish a corresponding hydrogen infrastructure, creating the technological conditions to produce and transport green hydrogen economically. Unfortunately, we are still in the early stages of this development”, concludes Siemens Energy Business Manager Martin Schneider.

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