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Fuel Cell Trains

Discussion in 'Cars and Transportation' started by doug, Sep 18, 2009.

  1. doug

    doug Administrator / Head Moderator

    Nov 28, 2006
    I heard this on NPR Science Friday last week. It presents a possible application that at least makes more sense than in automobiles.

    Could Hydrogen Fuel Cells Hit Rails Before Roads? : NPR

    Geoffrey Styles wrote a thoughtful blog about the radio program:

    Energy Outlook - Fuel Cell Trains

  2. dpeilow

    dpeilow Moderator

    May 23, 2008
    Winchester, UK
    HazardEx - Derailed LPG train explosion leaves 13 dead

    At least 15 killed, many hurt in Italy train LPG explosion

    This was looked at in the UK. A report in 2007 basically said keep the status quo and rely on developments like H2 coming along to give zero emissions on non-electrified lines. Within two years that policy has been reversed and they are now going to wire up lines where there is a good business case for doing so (two of the UK's main lines are currently diesel only).

    In the meantime, a new generation of bi-mode hybrid trains is being developed that can run on electricity only or use a diesel/battery series hybrid power source when away from the wires. This will allow a phased completion of wiring the rest of the network.

    To prove this can be done, Hitachi converted a 30 year old express train to a li-ion / diesel hybrid. It used a 50kWh, 1 tonne battery to power the train up to 30 km/h and then the diesel took over.

    One problem this hydrogen idea has is that an express train such as that described above requires 2.5 - 3 MW at the rails to start on a typical hill and to sustain top speed (200km/h in this case). That is a seriously big fuel cell.

    Seems to me that railways are a pretty bad use of fuel cells. You know where the vehicle is going, it's possible to supply it with power through simple technology and most lines have enough traffic to justify electrification. Where they don't, these are typically short branches or gaps in the network - in which case a fully BEV train which can fast charge when under the wires could be interesting. There could be short stretches of recharge wires close to stations (where you have supplies and the train is moving more slowly, spending more time under a given length of wire).

    With train cars costing well over £1m each these days, swapping diesels for batteries in limited circumstances could be attractive.
  3. doug

    doug Administrator / Head Moderator

    Nov 28, 2006
    Ultimately it comes down to cost.

    The hydrogen advocates are struggling to find some segment where the technology they support can be successful and then spurn the development of that H2 fueling infrastructure. Trains are an application that require fewer "miracles" than cars, but it's still a bit of a stretch given how expensive it is compared to alternatives.
  4. Serge

    Serge Member

    Jul 24, 2008
    Queens, NY
    It always does. Outside of space applications the high cost of hydrogen fuel cells is hard to justify, given available alternatives.

    Interestingly, the article mentions SOFC. Storage is much cheaper, but I wonder how expensive is the fuel-cell itself.

    For the future, lithium air batteries, with their high energy density may provide long-haul capacity for sparsely populated areas or locales lacking electric infrastructure. European tracks will likely be fully electrified by then.

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