High-Tech Hydrogen Trains Zoom Silently Ahead


China and Germany are leading the emerging movement to hydrogen-powered rail transport, or hydrail, based on fuel cell technology developed by a Canadian company, Ballard Power Systems, and Alstom Transport of Germany.


Fuel cell vehicles, which release zero carbon emissions, generate power for their motors through electrochemical processes that use compressed hydrogen and oxygen from the air and emit only water vapor.


"Hydrogen trains deliver on zero emission technology, replacing diesel with hydrogen so that the emission is harmless water vapor rather than choking, toxic fumes," says Oben Uluc, director of sales for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India regions at Ballard Power Systems, based in British Columbia, Canada.


The first fuel cell-battery hybrid railcar was given a test run in Japan back in 2006. Since then, the technology has matured.


In 2015, the province of Qingdao, China deployed its first fuel cell tram. The train can reach 60 kilometers per hour (40 mph) with a 380 passenger payload and has a range of 100 kilometers (60 miles).


The city of Foshan, in southern China's Guangdong province, began building tram lines in 2016 and has invested US$72 million in a new plant to manufacture hydrogen trams.


In 2014, the German states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and the Public Transportation Authorities of Hesse signed a letter of intent with Alstom Transport for trials with two fuel cell Alstom Coradia trains by 2018.


In September 2016, the newly developed iLint train produced at Alstom's Salzgitter factory was presented for testing by the company.


Testing and approval by the German Federal Railway Authority Eisenbahn-Bundesamt began in the fall of 2016 and is expected to be completed by end of 2017.


On March 14, Alstom successfully performed the first test run at 80 km/h of the fuel cell passenger train Coradia iLint on its own test track in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony.


Didier Pfleger, vice president of Alstom Germany and Austria, said, "This test run is a significant milestone in environmental protection and technical innovation. ... Today our new traction system, so far successfully proved on the test ring, is used on a train for the first time – a major step towards cleaner mobility in Europe."


The trains are supposed to go into regular service on the Buxtehude–Bremervörde–Bremerhaven–Cuxhaven route in December. They have a maximum speed of 140 km and can travel between 600 and 800 km without refueling.


Lower Saxony's local transportation authority now has ordered 14 hydrail trains.


Meanwhile, the German state of Schleswig-Holstein has a public transportation plan to replace all its diesel trains with hydrogen-powered trains, starting by early 2018.


Alstom has signed letters of intent for 60 trains with the German states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and the Hessian transport association Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund, says Pfleger.


Hydrail works by using a hybrid configuration of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries. Fueling takes about the same amount of time as traditional diesel engines. The hydrogen is converted into electricity using on board fuel cells. That electricity is fed to batteries that disperse the energy to the train's motors.


When the train's brakes are applied, the batteries recharge themselves. Excess energy is stored for later use.


Hydrogen trains are quieter than diesel engines, a plus for urban areas already exposed to stress-inducing levels of traffic noise.


Fuel cell train systems can run on existing tracks, eliminating the need for investments in overhead electric lines.


"When renewable energy generated from wind farms and solar arrays is used to create the hydrogen, the system truly becomes a zero emission option," Uluc says.


Ballard-powered hydrogen train in Foshan, China

(Photo courtesy Ballard Power Systems) http://www.ballard.com/



Ballard Power Systems President and CEO Randall MacEwen blogged in June, "Hydrogen infrastructure is now being developed in many regions - with almost 50 hydrogen filling stations in operation today in California and 100 stations expected to be up and operating in Germany between 2018 and 2019. Japan expects to have 160 hydrogen filling stations operating by 2020."


China needs sustainable fuel alternatives, because urban areas face severe and growing air pollution threats.


"China is planning 300 hydrogen filling stations by 2025, with 1,000 such stations expected to be up and running by 2030, illustrative of the country's growing need for fuel cell technology," he wrote.


Ballard currently works with China to help fulfill the need for more sustainable mobility by:


  • providing ongoing shipments of more than 300 FCveloCity powered buses in Foshan and Yunfu, China.
  • supplying strategic partner Zhongshan Broad-Ocean Motor Co., Ltd. with 10,000 commercial fuel cell vehicles that will be deployed in its China vehicle leasing business.
  • developing programs to supply 200 kilowatt engines to power urban light rail vehicles for China's CRRC Corporation Ltd., the world's largest train manufacturer.


This increase in volume production for fuel cells will continue to push down the cost of fuel cell power modules, which in turn continues to make the technology more commercially available, wrote MacEwen.


Fuel cell costs already have dropped steeply in recent years, adding to the appeal of hydrogen trains instead of traditional diesel railway transit.


Potential hydrail applications include all types of rail transport: passenger rail, freight rail, light rail, rail rapid transit, mine railways, industrial railway systems, trams, and special rail rides at amusement parks and museums.






Hydrogen Safety Fears Plague Fuel Cell Car Market


While hydrogen fuel cell trains and trams are gathering traction in the public transit sector, car buyers appear reluctant to climb into cars powered by on board hydrogen tanks.


Several good looking, high performing fuel cell models are on the market: the Audi A7 Sportback h-tron, the Chevy Fuel Cell EV, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL, the Nissan X-Trail and the Toyota Mirai FCV.


Yet, globally, just 1,600 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were sold or leased in the first half of 2017, according to a report August 24 from Information Trends, a market research and consulting firm based in the Washington, DC metro area.


More than 1,000 of these vehicles were sold in California, the only state in the United States where these vehicles are commercially available.


Fewer than 500 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were sold in Japan and Korea. Only five percent of these vehicles were sold in Europe.


The sales of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are infinitesimal compared to the overall automobile market, said Naqi Jaffery, president and CEO of Information Trends.


Why aren't people buying more fuel cell cars, when they produce zero carbon emissions and run quietly and efficiently?


Jaffery says fuel cell vehicle sales should be viewed in the context of the limited number of hydrogen fueling stations.


Globally, in the first half of 2017, 27 hydrogen stations were commissioned, taking the total number of stations to a little over 250, Information Trends disclosed.


Hydrogen refueling can be quick, easy and safe, says the California Fuel Cell Partnership.




Of the total number of stations, the highest installations are in Asia, followed by Europe. Only 16 percent of the stations are deployed in California.


Potential buyers may be worried about safety when refueling on board hydrogen tanks, as hydrogen has the highest energy per mass of any fuel, and it is highly explosive unless safely controlled.


The U.S. Department of Energy says motors in fuel cell vehicles that run on hydrogen are often two to three times more efficient than those powered by gasoline. But safe on board storage and refueling is still an issue.


"High density hydrogen storage remains a significant challenge for transportation applications," says the U.S. Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Office. The FCTO is developing onboard automotive hydrogen storage systems that allow for a driving range of more than 300 miles while meeting cost, safety, and performance requirements.


The California Fuel Cell Partnership (CFCP), an industry-government collaboration, is trying to reassure buyers that hydrogen refueling is safe right now at the few existing hydrogen fueling stations.


"A hydrogen station has several different safety systems that work together," the CFCP explains. "If flame detectors or gas sensors detect a fire or leak, then safety measures turn on automatically. The measures will seal the storage tanks, stop hydrogen flow or—in the case of an extreme fire—safely vent the hydrogen. Strategically placed emergency stops will manually shut down hydrogen equipment. Retaining walls, equipment setbacks and bolsters are designed into the site plan to maximize safety."




Innovative 'Hydrogen Sponge' Could Resolve Storage Issues


Finding practical hydrogen storage technologies for vehicles powered by fuel cells is the focus of a $682,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy awarded to Mike Chung, professor of materials science and engineering at Pennsylvania State University.


  1. Dr. Chung's recent research on superabsorbent polymers, which show potential to aid in oil spill recovery and cleanup, may also be a storage vehicle for hydrogen fuel cells.


"My group developed hydrocarbon polymers with a high oil absorption capacity," he said. "The polymers provide an efficient way to separate and store the hydrocarbon molecules, oils, from water during spills."


Chung hopes to apply similar technology to create a hydrogen adsorbent. Adsorption occurs when thin layers of molecules adhere to the surface of solids or liquids.


Chung said the difficulties faced in storing hydrogen could be overcome with the adsorbent, which would condense the gas into supercritical liquid form. A liquid turns supercritical when distinct liquid and gas phases do not exist.


Hydrogen can then be stored in pores within the adsorbent material at ambient temperature and low-pressure conditions.


The pores naturally form in the spaces between the polymer's molecules, allowing more hydrogen to be stored without increasing the size of the storage tank.


Chung said, "The polymer would act as a hydrogen sponge in the storage tanks."


  "Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles have the potential to be quite efficient, which is great because hydrogen fuel is the cleanest fuel available," said Chung.





Air Liquide Opens Fueling Stations Across Europe


Air Liquide is contributing to the growing use of hydrogen in the transport sector by supporting the creation of

the necessary hydrogen charging station network at global scale. By the end of 2017, Air Liquide will have

installed nearby 100 hydrogen stations around the world.


In France, a hydrogen station for the Manche General Council was installed in Saint Lô in January 2015. Air

Liquide has also inaugurated in December 2015 a new charging station in Grenoble as part of the HyWay

  1. project. This complements the existing station at Air Liquide’s Sassenage site (Rhône-Alpes), which allows

the users of the HyWay* project to recharge their vehicles with hydrogen.


On the occasion of COP21 in December 2015, Air Liquide installed the first hydrogen station in Paris, in partnership with the

Paris-based electric taxi start-up STEP (Société du Taxi Electrique Parisien). This hydrogen-powered vehicle fleet composed of 12 Hyundai ix35 cars can be seen on the streets of Paris and should count around 70

vehicles within a year and several hundred within five years.


In Northern Europe, Air Liquide opened in September 2014 its first public hydrogen station in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Five other stations were also installed in Denmark as part of the Copenhagen Hydrogen Network, supported by the European Commission. These five charging stations - three in Copenhagen, one in Aalborg and one in Vejle - joined two stations already in service, located in Copenhagen and in Holstebro.


In Germany, Air Liquide opened five public hydrogen stations in the cities of Düsseldorf, Offenbach-am-main, Kamen, Limburg an der Lahn et Mülheim.


Air Liquide contributes to the construction of the largest hydrogen distribution infrastructure network in Europe: the German government intends to build by 2023 a network of about 400 hydrogen stations covering the whole country. A network of at least 100 public hydrogen stations will be set up over the next two years.





Japan Plans Grand-scale Construction of Hydrogen Stations


Eleven Japanese companies, including the Big Three Japanese automakers - Honda, Nissan and Toyota - have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the construction of hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles.


The agreement, signed in May, stems from the Japanese government's "Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells," compiled by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, first announced on June 23, 2014 and revised on March 22, 2016.


The plan targets a total of 160 operational hydrogen stations and 40,000 in-use fuel cell vehicles by fiscal 2020.


The 11 companies will consider establishing a new company this year. The new company would aim to achieve steady construction of hydrogen stations, and achieve wider use of fuel cell vehicles and the independence of the hydrogen station business through activities for reducing costs, including governmental review of regulations, and activities for improving operational efficiencies.


The 11 cooperating companies are:


Toyota Motor Corporation

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy

Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd.

Iwatani Corporation

Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.

Toho Gas Co., Ltd.

Air Liquide Japan Ltd.

Toyota Tsusho Corporation

Development Bank of Japan Inc.


  The 11 companies will consider future means of broad participation by other companies.





Wealthy New Global Council 'Empowers' Hydrogen


In Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum last January, the CEOs and chairpersons of 13 top energy, transport and industry companies opened a global initiative to voice a united vision and long-term ambition for hydrogen power.


Forming a Hydrogen Council, the business leaders expressed the determination to position hydrogen among the key solutions of the energy transition. They committed to help achieve the ambitious goal of holding the global temperature rise to the 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial revolution levels as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accord.


The Council will work with, and provide recommendations to policy makers, business and hydrogen players, international agencies and civil society to achieve this goal.


The international companies currently involved are: Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, BMW GROUP, Daimler, ENGIE, Honda, Hyundai Motor, Kawasaki, Royal Dutch Shell, The Linde Group, Total and Toyota.


During the launch, members of the Hydrogen Council pledged investments of an estimated total value of €1.4 billion a year.


The 13 executives that currently make up the Hydrogen Council (Photo courtesy Air Liquide) https://www.airliquide.com/media/new-hydrogen-council-launches-davos


The Council is led by two co-chairs from different geographies and sectors, currently represented by Air Liquide and Toyota.


“The 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change is a significant step in the right direction but requires business action to be taken to make such a pledge a reality," said Benoît Potier, CEO, Air Liquide.


"The Hydrogen Council brings together some of the world’s leading industrial, automotive and energy companies with a clear ambition to explain why hydrogen emerges among the key solutions for the energy transition, in the mobility as well as in the power, industrial and residential sectors, and therefore requires the development of new strategies at a scale to support this," said Potier.


"But we cannot do it alone," he said. "We need governments to back hydrogen with actions of their own – for example through large-scale infrastructure investment schemes. Our call today to world leaders is to commit to hydrogen so that together we can meet our shared climate ambitions and give further traction to the emerging Hydrogen ecosystem.”


"The Hydrogen Council will exhibit responsible leadership in showcasing hydrogen technology and its benefits to the world. It will seek collaboration, cooperation and understanding from governments, industry and most importantly, the public," said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Chairman, Toyota.


"We know that in addition to transportation, hydrogen has the potential to support our transition to a low carbon society across multiple industries and the entire value chain," said Uchiyamada. "The Hydrogen Council aims to actively encourage this transition.”


The members of the Hydrogen Council collectively represent total revenues of €1.07 trillion and 1.72 million employees around the world.




By Sunny Lewis – Environment News Service