No electricity no problem! uk hopes to solve diesel train problem with hydrogen cleantechnica gas in stomach

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Could hydrogen-powered trains solve the UK’s railway electrification dilemma? UK transportation planners sure hope so. Back in 2012 they had high hopes for electrifying the nation’s entire fleet of diesel trains, until reality intervened. The idea was good in theory but the economic case fell apart recently. Much to the outrage of electrification fans, several big parts of the plan were cancelled within the last few months. Now policy makers are looking to cool things down by approaching electrification from the hydrogen angle.

The 2012 UK rail electrification plan really was ambitious. The idea was to spark private investment in the electric locomotive field by demonstrating the government’s commitment to electrification. The original concept included a £4·2bn build a “high-capacity ‘electric spine’ passenger and freight route” from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to Southampton, according to our new friends over at Railway Gazette.

That’s all well and good, but when it came down to costing out the plan, things began to fall apart. By January of this year, the hammer came down from UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. Our other new friends over at Rail Technology Magazine have the rundown:

In a tough afternoon for the secretary, he was grilled on his approach to nationwide electrification after the cancellation of two major plans in August last year, including both the East Midlands work and the Great Western route between Cardiff and Swansea.

Aside from reasons specific to the UK and the Class 321 fleet, a hydrogen conversion could make sense if a fleet is due to be refurbished. In that case you have an opportunity to demonstrate that hydrogen retrofits are an economical upgrade. That would provide financial justification for introducing new hydrogen rail lines, eliminating the expense of new overhead electrification.

Less than 50% of the U.K. rail network is electrified. At the moment the 321s run on that. With the hydrogen conversion they will be independently powered and bring the benefits of electrification to areas of the network that do not have a power supply, replacing diesel trains. The Wind Energy Angle

The Coradia iLint is a completely emission-free regional train that offers an alternative to diesel trains for operation on non-electrified railway lines, which currently make up more than 40 percent of the railway network in Germany. Powered by a fuel cell in which hydrogen is converted into electrical energy, the Coradia iLint only emits steam and water condensate.

Germany would be a good place to start. Back in 2015 CleanTechnica took note of the emerging power-to-gas movement, in which excess renewable energy is used for water-splitting, and by 2016 the company Enertrag was already planning to add power-to-gas to its business model.

Enertrag’s hybrid renewable energy power plant leverages wind energy to produce hydrogen. In consideration of the UK’s wind energy resources it seems that Alstom is in a good position to add a renewable hydrogen twist to its Class 321 conversion plans.