Public transport: hydrogen can replace diesel
With fuel cell technology development and, especially, government backing, more and more cities have the ambition to replace their diesel-powered public transport with hydrogen. In Germany, the RMV recently ordered 27 hydrogen trains from Alstom. In Belgium, bus manufacturer Van Hool presented its first fuel cell tram-bus on Tuesday.
Despite progress in battery technology, fuel cell is starting to raise interest with public transport companies. Not only do hydrogen vehicles often benefit from a longer range, but refuelling also takes a lot less time than charging a battery. Plus, hydrogen can be created using excess solar and wind power electricity. Not to mention that a molecule of hydrogen develops three times more energy than a petrol one.
500 million euro for 27 trains
Last month, the German Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV) announced it had ordered 27 hydrogen trains from French company Alstom. The transaction represents a hefty 500 million euro and takes into account the Coradia iLint trains, their maintenance for 25 years and the supply of hydrogen.
By 2022, those trains should replace diesel trains on four major lines in the Frankfurt region. Since September 2018, two Alstom hydrogen trains are running in Lower-Saxony. After successful test phases, 14 more machines should be deployed by 2021.
Perfect alternative to diesel?
Of course, there wouldn’t be any advantage to run a hydrogen train on an electrified railway. No, these new fuel cell trains are set to slowly but steadily replace diesel locomotives on railways that aren’t equipped with power lines.
Despite their higher cost of around 40%, fuel cell trains still present an advantage for railway operators. Indeed, electrifying a rail network costs on average 1,2 million euro per kilometre. Moreover, Alstom’s fuel cell train range now gets as high as 1.000 km, which is largely sufficient for a day’s work. Plus, it doesn’t emit anything more than water vapour.
Fuel cell tram-bus
Hydrogen technology isn’t reserved for trains. Belgian bus manufacturer Van Hool launched its first fuel cell tram-bus on Tuesday. Called Exqui.City’s, this bendy bus combines the advantages of a bus with the efficiency of a tram. It can transport up to 125 passengers and has a range of 300 kilometres.
“The transport sector has increased interest in hydrogen technology. It’s clear that if all the buses in one city drove on electricity, there would be charging issues”, declares Jan Van Hool. The French city of Pau ordered eight 18-meter long models back in 2017. They should be operating on the city’s public transport network this autumn.
Hydrogen production hubs
To take full advantage of the technology, the future fuel cell vehicles should run on 100% renewable hydrogen created with excess electricity from solar or wind farms. Alstom and other manufacturers have already identified zones where all users of hydrogen are grouped.
“We see that port areas include these chemicals, petrochemicals and steelmaking industries that use hydrogen on an industrial level”, explains Yves Carels, commercial manager at Alstom Belgium. The aim is, therefore, to install green hydrogen production hubs in those areas.