Rolling stock

20.02.18

Alstom: Industry must start work bringing hydrogen trains to UK immediately

Alstom, the supplier who are leading the race to put hydrogen-powered rolling stock on track in Europe, has said that Jo Johnson’s ambition to get rid of diesel-only trains by 2040 will work as motivation for the industry to work towards delivering greener trains.  

In an exclusive interview with RTM, Mike Muldoon, who leads on hydrogen for Alstom in the UK, also warned that if the British rail industry did not start trying to bring in hydrogen trains as quickly as possible, the country’s market could become less attractive.

Johnson’s speech last week came a few months after Alstom signed a contract to bring hydrogen trains to the German rail industry, with a view to beginning passenger services in the next few months.  

Muldoon also stated that Johnson setting these targets would throw down the gauntlet for the industry in delivering more zero-emission, hydrogen rolling stock, which could provide a zero-emission solution to non-electrified routes.

“Unless there was a clear governmental spear on what the policy was going to be on clean air, overall emissions and the future tech, until that was clear it wasn’t actually the market demand,” he explained.

“The 2040 aim isn’t that far away, and getting that marker down motivates us and the rest of the industry to get something out there.

“Unless clear targets and objectives are set and identified, it’s very east to allow it to drift.”

The Alstom hydrogen lead also told RTM that if UK rail did not get on with this quickly, then other markets in Europe might begin to appear bigger and more lucrative for potential suppliers.

“If we’re not careful, other markets will prove more attractive and larger than the UK,” he continued. “This is part of the reason the government is keen to press on and get the product in the the UK.”

When asked, Muldoon revealed that at this stage, Alstom was in talks with “several operators” in the UK regarding hydrogen rolling, and that the company had its sights set on making the UK the second country in Europe to run hydrogen trains on its network.

You can read the full interview with Muldoon in the Feb/March edition of RTM, which you can get by subscribing here.

Comments

Andrew Gwilt   20/02/2018 at 12:22

Suppose Hydrogen trains is the best way to reduce Co2 and the Transport Minister reckons that Hydrogen trains, Electric trains and Hybrid Bi-Mode trains will replace the most of the older Diesel trains in the next 20 years. Or could Bio-Diesel trains help reduce pollution.

Lutz   20/02/2018 at 13:57

There is a key problem; the product is not there yet - yes there are deployments in place and planned, but they are evaluations - still some way to go to get costs down, and a product suitable for UK infrastructure.

Michael King   20/02/2018 at 15:55

As we know electricity from solar and wind is quickly replacing coal sources. We have electric trains. Now Vanadium storage is proven, I’d have thought continue on the electrification route? Trains in the evening still being powered by sun and wind. Green and hugely economic at the same time. And without huge energy amount needed to produce hydrogen , although that could be itself non carbon.

Druim Fada   20/02/2018 at 16:33

How is hydrogen made? By passing [large] amounts of electricity through "impure" water and collecting the hydrogen from one of the electrodes. [I don't know what is done with the oxygen released at the other electrode, other than get it as far away from the hydrogen as possible]. The hydrogen then needs to be cooled and liquified to reduce its volume for storage. [Expensive!] It is the chemically recombined with oxygen on the train to produce electricity which is eventually passed to the traction motors. At each stage there are various efficiency losses, no process is 100% efficient. What the overall efficiency is I have not seen published but I suspect it will not be high. Would it not be cheaper and more efficient [fewer stages] to hang wires from poles stuck in the ground and let the trains use the electricity directly? A sad conclusion I have reached is that however competent they may be as Engineers [and there is cause for doubt, vide "Informed Sources" in Modern Railways] those employed by DfT and others are not "railway" Engineers.

Jimbo   20/02/2018 at 16:38

This sounds like he is asking to government to make it worth their while to try out hydrogen trains in the UK, but if their technology is as good as they say it is, why do they need incentives to try it out? A few more facts are needed here. What is the range of their solution compared to similar DMU's? What method is used to produce the hydrogen and what carbon emissions does that process have? What is the cost of this solution compared to a DMU and diesel disttribution? How are those costs expected to reduce over time as adoption increases? What is the "value" of using this technology compared to others (eg. electrification)? Personnally, I would suggest we should let Alstom fully develop their solution, and once the cost is comparable to equivalent DMU's, then we should buy it off the shelf. If Alstom want help testing it, then fine, but it shouldn't require any incentives to Alstom to do so.

Ampox   20/02/2018 at 17:04

As I understand it the idea is to carry the hydrogen fuel as high-pressure gas (to get a reasonable amount of it) in cylinders mounted on the roofs - 180 bar/atmospheres has been mentioned. Liquid hydrogen boils at 20 degK, far colder than liquid oxygen (90 degK), so requires much more energy to liquefy it, and lots of insulation to keep it that way, so probably not practical on a railway.

Neil Palmer   20/02/2018 at 21:02

Why not put the hydrogen in giant gas bags, maybe contained within an entire coach at each end of the train. Then reintroduce a Smoking section in the adjacent coaches. Arriva could try them out on Cross-Country with their old HSTs, maybe rename them the Hindenburg Silent Train. Too soon?

Lutz   21/02/2018 at 08:41

@Druim Fada Your conclusions are incorrect. I might want to read-up on a few of the relevant topics, and don't sling mud at those that know the considerations better than yourself.

J, Leicester   21/02/2018 at 12:03

It's a bit rich of Alstom to try to claim that it's somehow the UK's fault that a lack of orders for hydrogen powered trains could lead to the market becoming "less attractive". Surely it's the industry's fault on the supply side for failing to invest in ULEV technology in favour of moving away from self-powered vehicles as standard? Ultimately, that has set back the development of Hydrogen and Battery technology by decades. It's why large swathes of the network are seemingly doomed to be subjected to avoidable and substandard bi-mode fleets from Hitachi rather than a better alternative. We could be on a completely diesel-free network already, but the likes of Alstom, Stadler, Siemens, CAF et. al decided it was far more lucrative to persist with diesel models, on the misguided assumption that all nations would soon have fully AC electrified networks before clocking onto the fact that burning fossil fuels isn't a good idea in the long term. It speaks volumes that a tiny company tacking engines to the bottom of withdrawn tube stock on an old army base has made more progress in battery technology in three years than any of the major manufacturers have in three decades.

TJ   21/02/2018 at 22:28

The efficiency of the electrolysis process (hydrogen production from electricity) is about 50%. The efficiency of the fuel cell (getting your electricity back from the hydrogen) is about 50%. The overall efficiency of the cycle is about 20% when you take into account the losses involved in compressing the hydrogen. The longevity of fuel cells in an intensive heavy rail application is yet to be demonstrated - although the Alstom experiment in Germany will tell us that in a decade or so. Until then nobody is going to invest in an unproven technology and put a national hydrogen generation and distribution network in place when the automotive industry is clearly going for batteries not hydrogen. No amount of scaremongering from Alstom is going to change these basic facts!

TJ   21/02/2018 at 22:28

The efficiency of the electrolysis process (hydrogen production from electricity) is about 50%. The efficiency of the fuel cell (getting your electricity back from the hydrogen) is about 50%. The overall efficiency of the cycle is about 20% when you take into account the losses involved in compressing the hydrogen. The longevity of fuel cells in an intensive heavy rail application is yet to be demonstrated - although the Alstom experiment in Germany will tell us that in a decade or so. Until then nobody is going to invest in an unproven technology and put a national hydrogen generation and distribution network in place when the automotive industry is clearly going for batteries not hydrogen. No amount of scaremongering from Alstom is going to change these basic facts!

John Grant   23/02/2018 at 11:02

Are there laws of physics that limit the efficiency (as there are with thermal power stations) or might it improve with development? We're talking converting electricity into chemical energy and then back into electricity, which is also what happens in batteries.

Andrew Gwilt   25/02/2018 at 21:22

And I thought that I was the worst one to comment. Guess Im not the only one who talks garbage. Thanks Druim Fada. :)

Boris   27/02/2018 at 19:09

Have you noticed how nobody here is swearing, cursing or generally talking down on each other? Maybe you can take some lessons on how to have a measured and reasonable debate.

Andrew Gwilt   04/03/2018 at 11:42

Does it matter Boris. Keep it to yourself.

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