Germany was yesterday to inaugurate a railway line powered entirely by hydrogen, a “world first” and a major step forward for green train transportation despite nagging supply challenges.
A fleet of 14 trains provided by French industrial giant Alstom to the German state Lower Saxony are to replace the diesel locomotives on the 100km of track connecting the cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude near Hamburg.
“Whatever the time of day, passengers will travel on this route thanks to hydrogen”, Alstom project manager Stefan Schrank said, hailing it as a “world first.”
Hydrogen trains have become a promising way to decarbonize the rail sector and replace diesel, which still powers 20 percent of journeys in Germany.
Billed as a “zero emission” mode of transportation, the trains mix hydrogen on board with oxygen present in the ambient air, using a fuel cell installed in the roof. This produces the electricity needed to pull the train.
Designed in the southern French town of Tarbes and assembled in Salzgitter in central Germany, Alstom’s trains — called Coradia iLint — are trailblazers in the sector.
The project drew investment of “several tens of millions of euros” and created jobs for up to 80 employees in the two countries, Alstom said.
Commercial trials have been carried out since 2018 on the line with two hydrogen trains, but now the entire fleet is adopting the groundbreaking technology.
The French group has inked four contracts for several dozen trains between Germany, France and Italy, with no sign of demand waning.
In Germany, “between 2,500 and 3,000 diesel trains could be replaced by hydrogen models,” Schrank said.
“By 2035, around 15 to 20 percent of the regional European market could run on hydrogen,” said Alexandre Charpentier, a rail expert at consultancy Roland Berger.
Hydrogen trains are particularly attractive on short regional lines where the cost of a transition to electric outstrips the profitability of the route. Currently, about one out of two regional trains in Europe run on diesel.
Alstom’s competitors are ready to give it a run for its money. German behemoth Siemens unveiled a prototype hydrogen train with national rail company Deutsche Bahn in May, targeting a 2024 rollout.
Despite the attractive prospects, “there are real barriers” to a big expansion with hydrogen, Charpentier said.
For starters, trains are not the only means of transportation hungry for the fuel.
The entire sector, whether it be road vehicles or aircraft, not to mention heavy industry such as steel and chemicals, are eyeing hydrogen to slash carbon emissions.
Although Germany announced in 2020 an ambitious 7 billion euros (US$6.96 billion) plan to become a leader in hydrogen technologies within a decade, the infrastructure is still lacking in Europe’s top economy.
It is a problem across the continent, where colossal investment would be needed for a real shift to hydrogen.
“For this reason, we do not foresee a 100 percent replacement of diesel trains with hydrogen,” Charpentier said.
Furthermore, hydrogen is not necessarily carbon-free: Only “green hydrogen,” produced using renewable energy, is considered sustainable by experts. Other, more common manufacturing methods exist, but they emit greenhouse gases because they are made from fossil fuels.
The Lower Saxony line is initially to use a hydrogen by-product of certain industries such as the chemical sector.
The French research institute IFP, specializing in energy issues, says that hydrogen is currently “95 percent derived from the transformation of fossil fuels, almost half of which come from natural gas.”
Europe’s enduring reliance on gas from Russia amid massive tensions over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine poses major challenges for the development of hydrogen in rail transportation.
“Political leaders will have to decide which sector to prioritize when determining what the production of hydrogen will or won’t go to,” Charpentier said.
Germany would also have to import massively to meet its needs.
It has signed partnerships with India and Morocco, and an agreement to import hydrogen from Canada was on the agenda this week during a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) removed former minister of foreign affairs Qin Gang (秦剛) from his post after an investigation concluded that he had conducted an affair and fathered a child while serving as ambassador to the US, the Wall Street Journal reported. Top officials were told in August that a CCP inquiry into Qin uncovered “lifestyle issues,” the newspaper reported yesterday, citing people familiar with the situation that it did not describe. That phrase usually means sexual misbehavior of some type in the parlance of Chinese officialdom. Two of the people said the affair led to the birth of a child in
GUNNED DOWN: The Canadian PM said there were credible allegations that India was connected to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey on June 18 India yesterday dismissed allegations that its government was linked to the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada as “absurd,” expelling a senior Canadian diplomat and accusing Canada of interfering in India’s internal affairs. It came a day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described what he called credible allegations that India was connected to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate of Sikh independence from India who was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, and Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a
LOST BATTLE: The Varroa mite, which Canberra has called the ‘most serious pest’ to face bees, would cause serious economic damage, an ecologist said Australia yesterday abandoned its fight to eradicate the destructive Varroa mite, an invasive parasite responsible for the collapse of honeybee populations across the planet. Desperate to keep Varroa out of the country, authorities have destroyed more than 14,000 infected beehives since the tiny red-brown pest was first detected north of Sydney in June last year. The government said its US$64 million eradication plan could not stop the mite from spreading, and the country’s beekeepers should now prepare to live with the incursion. “The recent spike in new detections have made it clear that the Varroa mite infestation is more widespread and has
SECURITY: Wang met with the US national security adviser in Malta over the weekend, with the US side noting the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) yesterday headed to Russia for security talks after two days of meetings with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan over the weekend in Malta. China’s top foreign policy official will be in Russia until Thursday for a round of China-Russia strategic security consultations, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a brief statement. The US and China are at odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China has refrained from taking sides in the war, saying that while a country’s territory must be respected, the West needs to consider Russia’s security concerns about NATO’s