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Ballard to power India’s first hydrogen trains

Ballard Power Systems announced a fuel cell module order from Medha Servo Drives, a leading rail system integrator, which has been contracted by Indian Railways to develop India’s first hydrogen powered trains. Indian Railways is a statutory body under the ownership of Ministry of Railways, Government of India that operates India’s national railway system.

Two retrofitted diesel-electric commuter trains will integrate 8 units of 100 kW FCmove-HD+, Ballard’s latest fuel cell technology, based on the FCgen-LCS stack, which offers improved efficiency and power density than previous module generations.

The contract to provide the hydrogen-powered trains was awarded to Medha as a first step in Indian Railways’ path to achieve their net zero ambitions. The fuel cell modules are expected to be shipped in 2023, with trains scheduled to go into service in 2024, with potential for additional retrofits following the initial deployment.

Indian Railways estimate their investment in the hydrogen fuel cell project to have a payback of less than two years as the cost of hydrogen is now less than diesel. These conversions are not only expected to be more economic than their diesel counterpart, but also reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by over 11 metric tons and eliminate nearly a metric ton particulate matter per year.



' Indian Railways estimate their investment in the hydrogen fuel cell project to have a payback of less than two years as the cost of hydrogen is now less than diesel.'


In determining if a project is a good investment, 6-8 years for payback is the normal horizon to greenlight a project.

For many regions of the world, the change in low volume train lines where electric rail/catenary can't make a payback, then this is a shoe-in.

The roll out is likely to be just as fast as practical, mainly in terms of gaining operating experience so that the running of the new tech goes smoothly.


Clearly the current high price of diesel etc influences this extreme competitiveness, and prices may drop back.

But the tech and roll out of hydrogen infrastructure is at a very early stage, and it is plain that shed loads of cost are going to be taken out.

In a management presentation, it is obvious that the case for introducing the tech would be overwhelming.

All that is without costing any of the benefits from reduced carbon emissions and the elimination of noxious air.

I wonder where they intend to source their hydrogen?

Hopefully it is green hydrogen, but even if it is not for the moment, then that can be changed later.


I'm a bit surprised that not many seem to be looking to methanol on board trains, although these guys are trying:

It may be simply that reforming methanol on board is a bit less mature as a technology.

OTOH, there is plenty of room on trains for gaseous hydrogen, and no need to go to liquid as is advantageous for trucks, so if it ain't broke, why fix it?


I also wonder how they are making hydrogen cheaper than diesel although diesel is probably considerably more expensive in India than it is in the US. My first and worse guess is that they are using coal to make syngas and then separating the carbon monoxide from the hydrogen (brown or black hydrogen). The second guess is that they are using natural gas and steam reformation (grey hydrogen or blue if they capture the CO2 but that is unlikely and largely a scam anyway). Even if they are using electrolysis, it is worth pointing out that more the 85% of their power comes from coal so there is no "green" power to spare.
If you are short of power already and India is and unless the distances are very long which is unlikely for these type of railcars, it make more energy and financial sense to use batteries as the overall efficiency is at least twice as great. But I expect that this is more of a R&D project for engineers to play with.

If you want to see just what is possible with batteries in rail vehicles, see
EMD (part of Caterpillar) is offering a 14.5 MWhr battery electric locomotive but I think the rail cars would work with less than 600 kWhr which is less than 5% of the EMD Joule locomotive.


Diesel seems to be around 90Rs or so per liter:

That's about $1.17 (Google) so at 3.5 liters/US gallon perhaps around $4 or so per US gallon.

Not vastly expensive.


' India plans to slash the production costs of green hydrogen to $1 a kilogram from $5-$6 currently to encourage industries to use cleaner energy and wants access to cheaper loans to hep fund that transition, a senior government official said.

The world’s third-largest carbon emitter put out a roadmap in February to become a hub for the production and export of green hydrogen -- made from water and renewable electricity, though the fuel is a long way from being commercially viable.'


' Green hydrogen costs in India could potentially fall by half to as low as ₹160-170 per kg by 2030, bringing parity with grey hydrogen and other fossil fuels, says a KPMG study. Current green hydrogen production costs range anywhere between ₹320 and ₹330 per kilogram in India.

KPMG in India estimates, current grey hydrogen (hydrogen made using fossil fuels) costs ₹160-200/kg, based on natural gas input cost of $10-13/MMBtu (Metric Million British Thermal Unit) and possibly rising further due to the price movements seen in the immediate term. The National Hydrogen Policy could immediately result in reduction of green hydrogen production costs by 20-30% to ₹230-240 per kg, based on the policy measures announced and issues such as banking are sorted out. '

So presumably something along the lines of the Biden plan, streamlining and enabling renewables, of which India is already a substantial producer.


The mid point of the estimates for a kilo of green hydrogen with the administrative(?) reforms included is 235Rs, so about $3kg, so cheaper than diesel.

Indian railways costings and assumed savings are likely based on that rather than grey hydrogen, as the Indian Government's plans are for a massive increase in renewables, and in particular hydrogen production, so the railways to get the approval of the Government and whatever perks and subsidies etc are part of the plans, must be in the thick of it.


This is all great if there was a reasonable supply of clean electric power but it simply does not exist in India nor is it likely to exist for some time.


Electricity generation (utility sector) by source in India in FY 2021-2022

Coal: 1,078,444 GWh (72.7%)
Large Hydro: 151,695 GWh (10.2%)
Small Hydro: 10,463 GWh (0.7%)
Wind Power: 68,640 GWh (4.6%)
Solar Power: 73,483 GWh (5.0%)
Biomass & other RE: 18,324 GWh (1.2%)
Nuclear: 47,019 GWh (3.2%)
Gas: 36,143 GWh (2.4%)
Diesel: 115 GWh (0.0%)

From the above, the clean energy sector is about 23 % including nuclear but not biomass. Most of the power is from coal and most of that is quite dirty (without reasonable scrubbers). I have nothing against green or clean hydrogen but not if it is made by burning coal. And what hydrogen that is generated should be used to displace hydrogen that is made using steam reformation of coal or natural gas.

Anyway, I just do not believe that you need fuel cells for railcars when in most cases battery electric will work and use less than half the power. Every time you transform energy from one form to another there is a considerable loss.



I am not going to preempt the discussion, as I have given Mike here a link to the massive plans for renewables and hydrogen production in India, where of course there are excellent solar as well as some wind resources, with agrivoltaics meaning that it is not solar/or food production, but solar panels able to reduce evaporation and protect plants from excessive heat.

Here is an area where they lead, the covering of waterways with solar panels:

And here is how this tech, pioneered in India, could help California, out of interest:

' If all 4,000 miles of California’s canals were covered with solar panels, that could produce 13 gigawatts of renewable power. A gigawatt is enough to power 750,000 homes, so that would be enough power for 9.75 million households. For perspective, as of July 2021, there were 13.1 million households in California.'


' In a 2021 study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California’s canals with solar panels would save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. That’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people. By concentrating solar installations on land that is already being used, instead of building them on undeveloped land, this approach would help California meet its sustainable management goals for both water and land resources.'

As for batteries and trains, sure, it can be done.

The question is how economic and practical it is.

So for instance batteries work fine for training in aircraft, at greatly reduced cost, but are limited to half hour flights, so their 2 hour run for certification has to be carried out in conventional and hybrid aircraft.
Importantly in the application the batteries are only good for about 2,000 hours before having to be swapped out.
They can then be used for less demanding applications, grid storage and so on, but still....

Swapping them costs $20,000, even for that size of battery.

God knows what swapping the batteries on a train would cost.

Of course the engineers who are developing low carbon trains have taken a long hard look at batteries, but the choice of fuel cells in most applications is pretty universal.

I find that unsurprising as the bigger and heavier the transport, the more the advantages of fuel cells and hydrogen/methanol

As batteries improve, no doubt their practical operational envelope will improve, but the same is true of fuel cells etc.,

I can find no evidence that the engineers involved in the choice of fuel cells for regional rail in Europe and China etc have universally lost their minds, and for perverse and obscure reasons have plumped for fuel cells rather than batteries, if they thought they could do the job.

Maybe sometime, but not right now with current tech, at least in Europe etc.



Here is Siemens on their H2 trains under development:

Note their emphasis on fast refueling even for hydrogen, and the ability to increase the range where they need to by the addition of another coach.

The railways are clearly looking for as plug and play a solution as possible, so that they do not even have to adapt the timetable, but can simply switch diesel for fuel cell train.

That is clearly impossible with battery technology.

They also give a major reason for cost savings as that even at this stage of the game they are confident of lower repair and maintenance costs compared to diesel, that is quite an achievement for such a young technology.

That saving and reliability has been demonstrated in bus fleets in many places.

It is very reliable low maintenance tech..

None of that knocks battery solutions, which can offer reduced fuel costs compared to hydrogen trains.

But they certainly are not plug and play, and if you need to fast charge, the longevity of expensive batteries is still an issue.

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