Alstom has successfully tested a hydrogen-powered train which has as its exhaust only … water.
The train uses fuel cells (like the Toyota Mirai), and is intended to go into service carrying passengers in Germany in late 2017 or early 2018. Let’s start with just a little science: how does a fuel cell work?
Fuel Cell basics
A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by a chemical reaction. Every fuel cell has two electrodes, one positive and one negative, called, respectively, the anode and cathode. The reactions that produce electricity take place at the electrodes.
Every fuel cell also has an electrolyte, which carries electrically charged particles from one electrode to the other, and a catalyst, which speeds the reactions at the electrodes.
Hydrogen is the basic fuel, but fuel cells also require oxygen. One great appeal of fuel cells is that they generate electricity with very little pollution–much of the hydrogen and oxygen used in generating electricity ultimately combine to form a harmless byproduct, namely water.
This description is courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. You can read the entire article here.
So, since these types of engines only produce water, can you drink it? Turns out… yes! See this article from Wired in which the editor appears on video, actually drinking the exhaust of the Toyota Mirai.
Let's get back to the train project.
Here’s the press release from Alstom:
Despite numerous electrification projects in several countries, a significant part of Europe’s rail network will remain non-electrified in the long term. In many countries, the number of diesel trains in circulation is still high – more than 4,000 cars in Germany, for instance.
Coradia iLint is a new CO2-emission-free regional train and alternative to diesel power. It is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, its only emission being steam and condensed water while operating with a low level of noise. Alstom is among the first railway manufacturers in the world to develop a passenger train based on such a technology. To make the deployment of the Coradia iLint as simple as possible for operators, Alstom offers a complete package, consisting of the train and maintenance, as well as also the whole hydrogen infrastructure out of one hand thanks to help from partners.
The full press release is available here.
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This is a big deal for project managers, not only in the train projects themselves but also infrastructure. These trains need hydrogen filling stations. Where do these come from? Well, it depends on the location, but in the UK, the government is committing hundreds of millions of pounds to creating the appropriate infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles. See this statement from the UK Government.
Stay tuned to this blog, we’ll keep you up to date as this project moves from this testing phase to initiation and execution!