30-year-old hydrogen-powered train shows Cop26 the future of transport


At over 100 miles an hour, the Scottish hedges are a fuzzy green with the occasional glimpse of cows munching on grass in the fields beyond.

From the outside, you can hardly see the freshly painted metal carriages of the 30-year-old passenger train sliding along the rails in Glasgow and part of an experiment for the future of travel. But in the silence on board, it is possible to discern the difference of a vehicle powered by ultra-clean hydrogen.

The Cop26 hydrogen service was part of the UK government’s attempt to show how it intends to decarbonise the rail sector by 2050.

Created by UK leasing company Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham, the HydroFLEX train – Britain’s first hydrogen-ready passenger train – made its debut Tuesday from Glasgow Central Station, about a mile from the climate summit.

The £ 8.4million project, launched in 2018, included the installation of a hydrogen fuel system aboard a 30-year-old recycled train, which has a range of around 480 kilometers.

The train, which has a top speed of around 160 kilometers per hour, can also run on electricity and battery power, making it the first train in the world to be able to run on three different energy sources.

“We started to look at hydrogen due to the urgency of climate change and the need to decarbonize the rail industry,” said Helen Simpson, director of innovation and projects at Porterbrook. The Nationathe.

“So we outfitted a 30-year-old train with hydrogen technology to present it to the rail industry and government decision-makers to show that it is possible to build a hydrogen train – the technology is there. “

While large sections of the UK rail system are already powered by electricity, making it a much greener form of transport than driving, Ms Simpson said some trains in more remote parts of the UK do not are not electrified and still run on diesel.

“These trains are on low frequency services or routes, where it will take a long time to electrify these routes. And the question then becomes what do we do while we wait to try to achieve net zero carbon – and hydrogen has a role to play in that, ”she said.

The HydroFLEX event comes as Cop26 delegates prepare for Wednesday’s Transport Day, when governments attempt to build consensus on the transition to zero-emission vehicles.

Mohamed Mezghani, managing director of the International Association of Public Transport, said the HydroFLEX train is a key step as it “will make a huge contribution to reducing CO2 emissions” in the transport sector.

“Rail transport is very important in the fight against climate change, because it emits and consumes around 10 times less CO2 emissions than passenger cars,” he said.

“This is why it is important to develop and promote rail transport and public transport in general, because it is more socially inclusive, it is good for health, it is good for the environment and for the economy. So let’s move people instead of cars.

Rail is a low-carbon mode of transport, with passenger and freight services responsible for just 1.4% of UK domestic transport emissions in 2018.

To power the train, Porterbrook built 36 high pressure tanks, which hold up to 277 kilograms of hydrogen.

A regulator then reduces this pressure as the piping supplies hydrogen to the fuel cells, where a chemical process converts hydrogen and oxygen in the air to generate clean electricity. The only waste is pure water.

A separate control system ensures that the right amount of power is delivered at exactly the right time, while a lithium-ion battery provides and stores additional power when needed. Electricity from the fuel cells and the battery powers the electric motors which then propel the train forward.

Mr Mezghani said that innovations such as HydroFLEX can play an important role in encouraging the shift from road to rail transport and enabling active forms of travel, such as walking and cycling.

This is a message that Mr Mezghani plans to convey to policymakers in a series of high-level meetings at Cop26, where he will show how public transport is part of the solution to the climate crisis.

“Public transport must be included in all national plans because now only 30% of countries have public transport in their plans,” he said.

“Technology won’t solve everything. It’s good to have new technology; electrification is a great approach, but replacing existing cars with electric cars will not solve congestion or solve road safety.

“So it’s important that we don’t just rely on energy; we really need to focus on the needs of people and cities and not just on technology.

Mr Mezghani said hydrogen has a bright future, with more pilot projects such as HydroFLEX needed to reduce the cost of the renewable energy source and make it a viable solution for all rail transport.

However, for the use of hydrogen in the rail sector to become mainstream, Mr Mezghani said the right infrastructure to develop and use hydrogen trains must be in place, as the hydrogen supply is the primary challenge.

“It’s not just a question of transportation; it is an industrial issue and an energy issue, ”he said.

With trains already energy efficient, adopting renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and others will further increase the efficiency of the sector, Mezghani added.

Network Rail’s 2020 Traction Decarbonization Plan estimates that hydrogen will be needed on around 6% of the rail network, with northern Scotland, Teesside and East Anglia identified as areas where hydrogen traction could be deployed.

Ms Simpson said that smaller, more nimble companies are entering the hydrogen market and that “this supply chain is now increasingly able to deliver to the rail industry as well.”

“So we see fuel cells developing in other sectors and although rail has specific standards and safety requirements, they are no different from other sectors,” she said.

Updated: November 9, 2021, 7:10 PM

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