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CAF starts dynamic track testing of hydrogen-powered train

This week, CAF started dynamic track testing of the hydrogen-powered demonstrator train being developed for the FCH2RAIL project. FCH2RAIL is a consortium of CAF, DLR, Toyota, Renfe, ADIF, CNH2, IP and Stemmann-Technik.

This demonstrator train is based on one of Renfe’s commuter trains, in which a new power generation system has been installed. This system, which utilizes a hybridization of energy from hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, has been integrated into the vehicle’s existing traction system. As a result, it will become one of the first bi-mode demonstrator trains with hydrogen fuel cells.

The zero-emissions vehicle concept will be able to run in electric mode on the electrified infrastructure, while the hybrid mode will be used for operating on catenary-free sections.

After successfully performing static testing, the train is ready to start dynamic testing on an external track. With the start of these tests, the consortium will meet the original deadlines set for this phase of testing, demonstrating the consortium’s full commitment to the project.

During the dynamic tests, the hybridization of the fuel cells and the batteries will be optimized on routes that have been specifically selected as being representative of those that would be used for commercial services, meaning that the new system will be fully tested by a wide range of different power demand conditions.

As a result of these tests, the competitiveness of the new bi-mode hybrid propulsion solution can be evaluated against the diesel trains currently in use on many routes, within the framework of current plans to decarbonize rail transport.

The project has a €14-million budget, €10 million of which is being funded by the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, formerly FCH2 JU, a European Commission agency dedicated to promoting the development of hydrogen and fuel cells.

In this context, CAF is yet again confirming its commitment to the development of zero-emission mobility solutions, in this case through the use of hydrogen. This is a technology that the CAF Group has been marketing for some years now through its subsidiary, Solaris, the leader in the hydrogen bus market in the European Union for year 2021.



It sounds as though they have some way to go to catch up with Alstom:

' On July 15th, the Federal Railway Authority in Germany (Eisenbahn-Bundesamt) has given its approval Alstom’ first series production hydrogen trains which will go in operation in Lower Saxony this summer. Alstom has delivered 14 iLint fuel cell trains to Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LNVG) which will be operated by Eisenbahnen und Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser GmbH (evb).

With this step Alstom is the first rail vehicle manufacturer in the world to bring a hydrogen series fleet into the market. It is the first vehicle type approval of a hydrogen fuel call train under the new legal framework of the 4th railway package.

The trains are used in Lower Saxony in the evb network and are based in Bremervörde, where a hydrogen fuelling station was built by the gas and engineering company Linde near Bremervörde station on behalf of the Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LNVG).

The contract between LNVG and Alstom also includes 30 years of maintenance and energy supply for the trains. With the acquisition of the trains, Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser GmbH (EVB) can gradually take their old diesel-powered trains out of regular service.'


And here are hydrogen trains in Japan:


I do not understand the enthusiasm for using hydrogen for this application except that it allows big oil to keep selling natural gas. However, there is going to be a shortage of natural gas in Europe this winter anyway. Most the local rail cars could be a combination of catenary and battery which would be more energy efficient and have an overall lower operating cost.

"The two car “Hybari" train costs about $35 million ( 4 billion yen) and can travel up to 140 kilometers (87 miles) at a top speed of 100 km/h on a single filling of hydrogen." $35 million for140 kilometers at a top speed of 100 km/hr and they need hydrogen fuel cells to accomplish this? This is a joke or either it is another of Toyota's WTF projects.



Here are links to the detailed European studies showing that save for limited shunting applications, fuel cells and hydrogen are far more practical than batteries:

This has been borne out now in actual operation, where the Alstom trains are doing a great job with high availability:

That was back in 2019, and their continued good performance is witnessed by everyone looking for more of them.

I don't know why you are assuming hydrogen from natural gas, as Europe is installing considerable capacity for hydrogen from renewables, both internally and imported.

The cost difference against hydrogen from NG by reforming is far less than in the US, or even perhaps negative, although I have not been able to track down the detailed figures from BloombergNEF to get a breakdown:

' Green hydrogen cheaper than natural gas in Europe boosts investment.

The price of liquefied natural gas is higher than green hydrogen in eight European countries, providing a major tailwind to invest in hydrogen.

The levelized cost of green hydrogen produced with alkaline electrolysers, i.e., not including any subsidies, is cheaper than natural gas in countries including the UK, Sweden, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Poland, according to data from BloombergNEF.'

So it is in some cases cheaper than just the raw materials input for reformed hydrogen.

I am not going on from that in the absence of detailed cost breakdowns to make excessive claims though.

For instance, onshore wind is the cheapest resource to produce hydrogen in the UK, but they are not building onshore in any quantity, with the rather more expensive offshore being the resource where around 30GWp are being built here.

When you consider distribution and compression or liquifaction costs, then I have not got good enough figures to back excessive claims on cost competitivity.

But green hydrogen is clearly far more competitive than previously, and long term trends in electrolyser costs and just about every other input mean that it is going to become ever cheaper, so countering any likely drop off in NG costs due to resumption of Russian supplies or whatever.


Regarding catenary systems etc, the costs of track electrification however done is substantial.

Europe has far more of its network electrified than, for instance, the US, but there are lower limits of volume etc where it is not economic.

It is for those where hydrogen fuel cell trains are to be used.

So long as provision is made for fueling stations, the fuel cell trains are basically a drop in replacement for diesel, avoiding the hassles of battery systems, with substantial downtimes for charging or stocking of batteries for battery swapping.

The fuel cell trains also don't suffer so much as battery systems do when the temperature drops, so extensive rescheduling is avoided.

Essentially way less hassle to run than battery systems, which is also why they are a popular solution in, for instance, fork lift trucks, although battery versions can of course be used in that application.



I am relatively sure that in the US, it is considerably cheaper to make hydrogen using steam reformation than using electrolysis. But even if it is close to parity in Europe, it is still more expensive in both cost and energy use to use hydrogen as opposed to battery electric. The main problem with hydrogen using hydrolysis and fuel cells is that you are probably going to get back some where around 35 to 40 % of the power and you still have the same electric drive efficiency that a battery electric vehicle has.

I could not find any specs for the power required but I would guess that it around 250 to 300 kW for each car. The older Budd Rail Diesel Cars in the US had 410 kW but there were much heavier and had a top speed of 85 mph (137 kph). The average power is probably less than 150 kW so a 300 kWhr battery which is only the equivalent of 3 Tesla cars would give you 2 hours of operation. Also some of the operation is probably either starts or ends under catenary which can be used to charge the batteries. For most cases, you do not need the expense or added complexity of fuel cells and hydrogen.

Use the green hydrogen for something useful such as making ammonia for fertilizer. No one has an excess of green electric power to waste where it is not needed especially in Europe at the moment.



' I am relatively sure that in the US, it is considerably cheaper to make hydrogen using steam reformation than using electrolysis'

Probably, most places. But take for instance the Great Plains, wind power is cheap there, but with limited markets. On site production of hydrogen would keep the wheels turning on long distance trains.
And costs are ever dropping.

There are detailed figures on the costs, usage etc in each application in the links I have supplied if you want to get into the weeds as to why the engineers have made the choices they have.

And in Europe there is indeed a surplus of power which could be used for hydrogen production, at the wrong time of year for demand when renewables oversupply the grid. Hydrogen production is a great way of using and storing it.

As for ammonia etc, that is a great application for the vast farms being built in the Middle East from renewables, as the ammonia is easily transported.

I am comfortable in claiming that ammonia produced in Europe will remain more expensive than importing it from other places with better renewables.

I tend to assume that the engineers do a reasonable job, and have not missed the obvious, in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary.

The fuel cell trains seem to work fine, are operationally seamless compared to their diesel equivalent, and all the metrics for cost are falling over time.

I find it hard to believe that they have got it all wrong.

Costs in the US are a very different matter.


Just to add, the issue for green hydrogen is that at the moment we have tiny amounts of electrolysers installed.

It is growing rapidly, very rapidly, but there is absolutely no way at all that, for instance, ammonia production could be replaced at the moment.

The choice of hydrogen for trains, although made on its own merits, is going to be a critical enabler of its production and distribution, for, for instance, long distance trucking, and aeroplanes.

Which is precisely why folk who have decided they are agin hydrogen don't like them.



I am not against hydrogen. We need clean hydrogen for a whole number of things.

What I am against is wasting energy when there are more efficient ways to do things especially if they also costs less.

A few comments about myself. I have a undergraduate in physics and 3 graduate degrees in mechanical engineering including a doctorate all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My first electric car project was in 1967. I had not worked in the auto industry directly but have had job offers from both GM and Ford and have consulted for both. I am mostly retired but still advise students working on FormulaSAE Electric where the students design, build and compete with an electric race car. I have also been involved in the startup of 3 companies. I know something about engineering and consulted 2 years ago on the design of axial flux motors that were probably intended for electric drones. The project was sponsored by NASA and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency).


It is not really an Either/Or situation, we need both and hydrogen does fit in certain areas of transportation, Electric Rail where passenger density and already installed infrastructure will remain the best approach, particularly in Japan and Europe.
Fuel Cell Trains for light rail and low density passenger routes could be competitive with battery technology. The real benefit though would be to use Green Ammonia using ICE in both ships and long distance freight trains. Both already ship ammonia so no additional infrastructure other than electrolysis needed.
Also, Green Ammonia is already cost competitive this year in North America thanks to the inflated cost of Natural Gas.



I am not dissing you, and I try in spite of being a grumpy old man to keep things civil here.

To be clear I have no engineering chops at all, and never pretend to have.

But I know a man who does, so to speak.

And a cat can look at a King, so numeric arguments have worth, no matter who presents them.

As I noted, the links I have given are detailed and specific, showing usage patterns, what worked with batteries, electrified rail, hydrogen and so on, so my view would be that criticism should take that on board, and directly argue to them.

My own view would be that there appear to be sound reasons for the choice of hydrogen to run trains where usage is not high enough to warrant electrification of the rail, one way or another, that it works fine, provides decarbonisation especially considering that in Europe a lot of renewables are currently chucked away for want of means to store them, that costs of all inputs are rapidly dropping, and that a ten fold increase in three years is game changing.

I don't really understand whats not to like, or see any substantial reason for claiming that the engineers have screwed up, but I will certainly pay attention to any counter arguments which actually address their laid out rationales in detail.


An example of this battery/hydrogen approach would be something like the Wabtec battery-powered locomotive in a consist between two Tier 4 locomotives, creating a battery-electric hybrid consist. Currently, this hybrid uses Diesel fueled engines in one of the locomotives. Upgrade the Diesel engine to burn Green Ammonia, add an Ammonia tender car and you have a zero carbon train.

For low density Passenger Rail Service, an FC example could use LOHC again with minimal infrastructure.



From your link:

' Combined, these technologies allow Hydrofuel to produce Green NH3 using $.02/kWh electricity for as low as $220 a tonne, whereas fossil-fuel derived NH3 is currently selling at $1,500 to $2,000 a tonne.

Green Hydrogen can be separated out from this ammonia to sell at about $1.50 a kg, compared to traditional green H2 which sells for up to $15 a kg. Even at $.08/kWh the production of green Ammonia and releasing Hydrogen from it will be lower cost than any hydrocarbon fuel.'

That is remarkable for North America, where green hydrogen is far less competitive than in Europe.

I would also point out that the likes of Topsoe Haldor, who are much more mainstream having massive expertise and running installations producing ammonia and hydrogen by conventional means, are also backing and moving heavily to green ammonia and hydrogen, so this is not some far out thought experiment, but moving to be industry standard.



Hybrid trains may be the way to go in NA, it seems that for whatever reason it is tougher to do hydrogen trains there.

LOHC may also come in handy on trains, I am not sure what the weight constraints are, with the superior energy density of ammonia being the reason that it seems to me perhaps likely to prevail in shipping hydrogen about.

Weight is tight in trucking, hence presumably why most of the trucking companies are looking to liquid hydrogen.

Dunno about trains.....



I was trying to put some numbers on the energy costs of extracting the hydrogen from LOHC, but mislaid my reference which was talking of the order of 30% from memory.

I did dig this out:

' Liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs) store hydrogen by covalent bonds in a safe and dense manner. Recovery of hydrogen is realized by an endothermal dehydrogenation reaction. Theoretically, its heat demand could be covered by waste heat, e.g., from a fuel cell. However, to facilitate this, it is crucial to increase the temperature level of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells and lower the temperature level of the dehydrogenation reaction.'

I would not be too bothered about the energy penalty in stationary applications, as there are all sorts of strategies to minimize it or use otherwise waste heat sources etc, but it seems likely to be rather more challenging in mobile applications.

It is just possible that Siemens who are giving it a go know rather more about it than I do though! ;-)

Alstom's compressed hydrogen tanks seem to work just fine though, so I am inclined to the view that if it ain't broke, don't fix it......

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