The world’s first fleet of zero-emission, hydrogen-fueled trains could go into service in Germany by the end of next year, Dezeen reports. Developed by French rail company Alstom, the Coradia iLint trains convert hydrogen from fuel tanks on their roofs and oxygen from the air into electric power. They emit only excess steam and condensed water — a world first, Alstom claims.
The trains are also equipped with lithium batteries for storing excess energy to back up the fuel cell. In a statement, Alstom claimed the trains carry enough hydrogen to power a 497-mile journey with top speeds of 87 mph.
Testing will be carried out by the end of 2016. If the trains prove successful, they could be in use on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony by December 2017.
Today, over 4,000 diesel trains service Germany’s rail system, making the hydrogen-fueled trains a clearly eco-friendlier option. CityLab notes that since the hydrogen the trains will use is a waste product of the chemical industry, the Coradia iLint’s fuel source is nearly carbon-neutral.
“Typically, this hydrogen is simply burned, so using it to power trains would not place any new, additional burden on the environment,” writes Feargus O’Sullivan. “Admittedly, the production of such chemicals is itself not always carbon-neutral, but given that these substances are already being manufactured, the train project will at least ensure that this process is more productive.”
He also points out that electric-powered trains are already pretty environmentally sound. For electrified systems, the hydrogen trains won’t make a huge difference. But for short stretches of rail that have not been electrified, they could, and would probably cost far less than electrification.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.