Lining up the train that runs on hydrogen

 In News

A train powered by hydrogen will run on a Midlands main railway in its final trials before pulling passengers next year. 

The “HydroFlex” train test will take place on the North Cotswold Line from Oxford to Hereford in the next few weeks.

It has been developed jointly by the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook, a British rolling stock company, and the consortium has been given a £400,000 grant by the government.

“It is an exciting project and another example of how technology is helping us cut our carbon footprint,” said Midlands green energy expert Ron Fox.

The train uses hydrogen and oxygen to generate the electrical energy to power the train, which at the moment can travel up to 75 miles on a single tank of fuel. 

There are four hydrogen fuel tanks, a fuel cell, which is made up of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte membrane plus two lithium batteries.

The stored hydrogen passes through the anode, where it is split into electrons and protons with the former then forced through a circuit that generates an electric charge. It then can be stored in lithium batteries or sent directly to the train’s electric motor. The leftover part of the hydrogen molecule reacts with oxygen at the cathode and becomes the waste product – water.

The HydroFlex is one of two hydrogen trains being planned – the train builder Alstom and a rolling stock company, Everholt, are developing a zero emission train called Breeze.

“The only concern,” said Ron, “is that hydrogen is extremely flammable and the tanks, fuel cell and batteries sit inside a passenger carriage.

“Although the hydrogen is stored in four secured high-pressure tanks, one of a range of measures to ensure passengers’ safety, the ultimate plan is to store them underneath the train in order to fit in more passengers.” 

The benefits of the hydrogen-powered train is that it is incredibly quiet compared to diesel ones. And unlike electric trains, they are more resilient to network-wide disruption.

Another plus is that hydrogen-powered trains could provide green transport without the high cost of electrifying and overhauling tracks and existing diesel trains could be modified. At present 58 per cent of the UK rail track is not yet electrified.

But there is still more work to be done. To be a truly green form of travel, the hydrogen would need to be created and stored using renewable energy sources, like off-shore wind farms and solar grids, rather than fossil fuels. Also mining one tonne of lithium for the batteries requires 500,000 gallons of water.

Engineers are working on extending the journey distances which has already been achieved by the German Coradia iLint, the world’s first hydrogen powered train. It can run for 600 miles on a single tank of fuel.

“With the UK’s ambition to do away with diesel only trains by 2040 it could be full steam ahead for these hydrogen-powered trains,” added Ron.

For advice on all green energy matters contact Ron on 0845 474 6641.

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