World’s first hydrogen train debuts in Germany

Alstom has presented its zero-emission hydrogen train at InnoTrans - image courtesy of Alstom

Hydrogen fuel cell technology was one of the first proposed alternatives to replace fossil fuels. Companies like Hyundai and Toyota are currently spearheading the technology in cars. But French company, Alstom, has just revealed it has been working on a hydrogen train which incorporates the use of hydrogen fuel cells in trains.

Alstom, which specialises in integrated railway systems and is now owned by GE, presented a zero-emission train at InnoTrans, a railway industry trade fair that happened in Berlin from 20-23 September. Dubbed the Coradia iLint, the hydrogen train uses fuel cell technology and its only emission is steam and condensed water.

This latest innovation is a new CO2-emission-free regional train which is consciously pushed ahead as an alternative to diesel power. It also generates low level of noise and makes Alstom among the first to develop a passenger train based on such a technology.

Utilising hydrogen fuel cells requires expert hands to operate, so to make it easy on operators, Alstom is offering a hydrogen train package that includes the train, maintenance and the entire hydrogen infrastructure with help from partners.

Trains are among the most widely used public transportation systems in the world due to its large capacity and range. Having zero-emission train systems that have their own source of power instead of connecting to an electric grid or relying on diesel power would go a long way in terms of bringing down the global carbon footprint.

“Alstom is proud to launch a breakthrough innovation in the field of clean transportation which will complete its Coradia range of regional trains,” Alstom chairman and CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge, said in a statement. “It shows our ability to work in close collaboration with our customers and develop a train in only two years.”

Hydrogen train vs today’s trains

Most locomotives in use today are powered by electric motors. The only question is, where does the electricity come from? Often, it is generated onboard by massive diesel engines. Other times, it is provided by a connection to overhead wires. Now there is a third option that eliminates the need for wires overhead and leaves no trail of diesel emissions in its wake.

Officially, the hydrogen train is be called the Coradia iLint, but it has already been nicknamed the hydrail. It carries a supply of hydrogen in tanks mounted on the roof and has a range of up to 800 kilometers.

Alstom’s Coradia iLint is based on the service-proven diesel train, Coradia Lint 54 and has a capacity of up to 300 passengers, including seats for 150. The top speed is listed as 140km/h or 87mph and its fuel cell onboard the train mixes hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which is stored in a lithium-ion battery.

It is far quieter in operation than a train pulled by a diesel locomotive and is a step forward for Europe’s push to limit carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Others have experimented with hydrogen fuel cell power for cargo trains. The Coradia iLint is the first time hydrogen has been used exclusively to power a passenger train.

The hydrogen powered train is more expensive than a comparable diesel model, but concerns over climate change have sparked interest in the technology from other parts of Germany as well as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.

See official video from Alstom on the hydrogen train here.