Rail Electrification: the Only Choice

Rail Electrification: the Only Choice

Of the key motive applications that are ideal places to deploy hydrogen fuel cells rail is one of the most exciting areas.

With over 8% of the worlds passenger movements, 7% of freight and yet using only 2% of the world’s energy, rail is already a great low energy form of transportation. But depending upon whether the trains are diesel powered or the power for the electricity comes from high carbon mixes, there is still significant room for improvement.

The need for electrification without the cripplingly expensive infrastructure of 3rd rail deployment is acute with highly polluting diesel locomotives still in widespread use. Not only do the existing diesel stocks heavily pollute they also have high noise emissions, a particular problem when train lines go through urban areas.

In order to electrify rail routes the traditional approach has been to install a third electric supply rail or overhead cables; but doing this over the complete network is infeasible. With 58% of the UK network yet to be electrified, this will likely prove too great of an investment to be commercially viable.

Batteries are sometimes thought of as the solution, but the energy density of these systems simply can’t compete with Hydrogen. As such it is not a viable solution particularly when the charging times and daily distances required for most rolling stock with battery solutions only provide a 60 mile range between charges.

Hydrogen and fuel cells can provide the solutions to electrifying rail with a central refuelling network, zero emissions and energy density appropriate for the task (E4tech).

Notably Alstom Coradia iLint has been successfully launch in Europe with a range of over 1000km and some of the first line orders are being generated. In the UK the first  proof of concept demonstration project, dubbed HydroFLEX has been completed and it was suggested could be a commercial reality in 3 years.

With our PCBFC technology having significant technical advantages when it comes to the flexibility of integration rail has a great potential end market application for Bramble Energy. When coupled with our industry leading cost point this application space is certainly on our near term radar!

Dr. Tom Mason


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