The future of public transportation rolled into one German train station earlier this week, as spectators gathered to witness the launch of the world’s first zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered trains. German officials say it’s the first passenger rail transport authority to replace older diesel vehicles with an eco-friendly alternative.
The two bright blue Coradia iLint trains built by the French company Alstrom will take over a 100-kilometer (62-mile) route between Germany’s northern cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde, and Buxtehude – all previously powered by diesel trains. The project, a collaboration between the federal government and private manufacturers, represents a small step in transforming public transportation, according to the team.
“The emission-free drive technology of the Coradia iLint provides a climate-friendly alternative to conventional diesel trains, particularly on non-electrified lines,” Dr Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economy and Transport, explained in a statement. “In successfully proving the operability of the fuel cell technology in daily service, we will set the course for rail transport to be largely operated climate-friendly and emission-free in the future.”
Set to service around 2 million rail passengers and 4 million bus passengers, the new trains will be fueled at a hydrogen filling station. Here, gaseous hydrogen is pumped into the trains from a 12-meter-tall (40-foot) steel container near one of the stations. Just one tank is enough to power the two trains for an entire day.
The high-speed hydrogen trains work by using fuel cells to convert a combination of hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. Excess energy is then stored in ion-lithium batteries onboard the trains. Steam and water are the only emissions, eliminating a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Coradia iLint heralds a new era in emission-free rail transport. It is an innovation that results from French-German teamwork and exemplifies successful cross-border cooperation,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstrom Chairman and CEO, in the statement.
Alstrom plans to deliver another fueling station and 14 additional trains to the German state by 2021. A number of other countries are also looking to adopt the greener, quieter alternatives, including Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and Canada. France plans to have their first train in operation by 2022.