Use of Fuel Cells and Hydrogen in the Railway Environment

Written on the 18th April, 2019

In 2018, The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU) and Shift2Rail commissioned a Study “The Use of Fuel Cells and Hydrogen in the Rail Environment.” The study was undertaken by Roland Berger and has now been completed.

The FCH-JU and Shift2Rail are organising an all-day Workshop in Brussels on 17 May to launch and discuss the Study. The Workshop invitation is available on the FCH-JU website on The Study is not on the site but there is a Concept Paper .

The Concept Paper states that there are four Reports in the Study:

  • state of the art, business cases and market potential for hydrogen rail applications.
  • ten specific case studies that cover the three main applications identified (multiple units, shunter locomotives and freight locomotives).
  • an analysis  of the technical and non-technical barriers facing these technologies.
  • a summary of the main conclusions from the Study.

The Concept Paper argues in the main conclusions that there is “a good potential for fuel cells in the railway environment for the replacement of diesel rolling stock. Some of the cases evaluated already show a positive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for fuel cells while in others this technology is recognised as the most adequate zero-emission alternative.”

In assessing the different types of train, the Study concluded that multiple units are closest to market but it points out that projects that involve only a small number of trains or low daily mileage will have problems to reach appropriate TCO due to the infrastructure costs.

Shunter locomotives need more technical development and freight locomotives are more difficult to justify economically.  However,  “if catenary electrification is not an option, fuel cells would be the only zero-emission option.”

The Study concluded that none of the barriers identified were ‘show-stoppers .’ It recommends:

  • a large-scale demonstration for multiple units
  • two research/design projects dealing with various aspects for both shunter and freight locomotives.

The May Workshop will be centred around three panels discussing:

  • the status of the technology.
  • the three most promising rail applications.
  • the political appetite and policy landscape for the introduction of fuel cells in the railway environment.

European Policy Solutions is closely monitoring the development of hydrogen trains and is planning to organise a Zero Emissions Trains seminar later in the year.

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