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Hydrogen trains lined up for 2021 start in UK

Alstom breeze image 2

Converted hydrogen trains could be on the UK’s railways by 2021. 

An Alstom and Eversholt Rail joint venture has revealed concept designs and plans to convert Class 321 rolling stock into hydrogen powered trains of the future, operational as a soon as 2021.  

Codenamed ‘Breeze’ the new trains would be converted Class 321 units, some of the UK’s most reliable rolling stock.

The characteristics, fleet size and availability for conversion to a Hydrogen Multiple Unit (HMU) make the 321 stock the ideal choice for conversion.  

The trains will use a combination of a fuel cell and a lithium ion battery that gives the train a range of approximately 1,000km, similar to a typical diesel powered unit. 

The fuel cell produces electricity through an electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen, creating water as a by-product. The batteries are used to store energy recycled from braking when the train decelerates. The water produced by the fuel cell is the only output of the reaction - no pollutants are produced directly by the train.

However, the main process of producing pure hydrogen typically involves using fossil fuels, which are hydrocarbons.

Despite still using fossil fuels in the process, the overall carbon footprint of hydrogen vehicles is still much less than conventional combustion engines. 

Research is still ongoing into using electrolysis powered by renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind, to break water down into pure hydrogen and oxygen. 

The next step for the partnership now the concept design is complete, is to work on developing introduction plans for fleets of the converted trains, as well as new fuelling infrastructure to support the fleet.  

Rail minister Andrew Jones said the technology could transform the rail industry.  

“Hydrogen train technology is an exciting innovation which has the potential to transform our railway, making journeys cleaner and greener by cutting CO2 emissions even further,” he said.  

“We are working with industry to establish how hydrogen trains can play an important part in the future, delivering better services on rural and inter-urban routes.” 

Minister for energy and clean growth Claire Perry said the UK was on track to the be leader for the hydrogen-economy.  

“The UK is on track when it comes to growing a world-leading hydrogen economy, and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are providing £23 million to power our ambition to be the ‘go-to’ place for first-class hydrogen transport.”  

“The work here is building on work Alstom has already done in Germany. There it is just about to put two new Coradia iLint hydrogen fuelled trains into service with an order for 14 more to be delivered by 2021 and 2022 together with the infrastructure needed to refuel the trains.”

Hydrogen technology isn’t limited to rail. In October highways maintenance firm Connect Plus Services teamed up with Toyota to successfully trial a hydrogen fuel-cell car on the M25

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Philip Alexander

    The use of hydrogen in a fuel cell to drive a propulsion unit is laudable. However, everyone concentrates on the headline that the only waste product is water. this is a massive deceit. The production of Hydrogen gas and the vessels in which to store it in liquid form plus the energy to convert it from gas to liquid are every bit as much energy intensive as a straightforward internal combustion engine. When is our profession going to start being critical around so-called green solutions instead of just accepting lay journalists' claims that this fuel is emission free. No it isn't.

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  • Hi Philip, as you can see in the article, I do specifically mention the process of separating hydrogen for fuel is not a carbon neutral process, but use of electrolysis to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules powered with energy from renewable sources will certainly reduce the overall carbon footprint of the process. Happy to discuss this further if you wish

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  • My understanding is that the most often used technology for producing hydrogen involves steam reform of methane. Methane is a fossil fuel, but that shouldn't be confused with the production of greenhouse gases. However, I'm told that CO2 is a byproduct of the process and steam production obviously requires an energy input from somewhere.

    While the carbon footprint might possibly be reduced, the main purpose of using fuel cells here is to reduce the sort of health-threatening emissions that are commonplace with diesel units. I personally have had a dreadful experience at Birmingham New Street, waiting for a delayed local train while a diesel unit on the opposite track belched out fumes over several hundred passengers. Not that we are likely to see these trains at Birmingham, as they seem to be aimed at northern routes.

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