Toyota Motor Europe will supply the fuel cell modules for the hydrogen train prototype being developed under the EU’s FCH2RAIL programme.
The FCH2RAIL consortium has partners from Belgium, Germany, Spain and Portugal and has a mission of developing and testing a hybrid electric-hydrogen train that can run on both overhead lines and on non-electrified sections of track using hydrogen as a fuel. The project was launched in January 2021. Now, the reference routes and operating scenarios for the prototype have been defined.
The prototype is to be a dual mode electric-hydrogen train, as a way of bringing together all of the best-possible traction sources: an electric train has better performance in terms of top speed and acceleration compared to diesel trains. Therefore a dual mode train means the train can run at least partially under overhead lines, rather than having to be fully diesel if it covers route sections that are not electrified (yet). Though it must be noted that one of the reasons why electric trains outperform diesel trains is because they do not have to carry their own fuel, whereas in this hybrid train that would not be true. Hydrogen trains also exhibit a much higher range compared to purely battery-powered trains (where the range is 30–70km).
The FCH2RAIL project envisages a modular energy supply system, allowing the power and range to be adapted based on requirements. The more fuel cell and battery module the train has, the more drive power it has; and the more hydrogen tanks it has, the greater its range. The project participants say the drive unit will be able to be adapted so that it can be used for both passenger and freight operations.
The prototype train for the project is a CAF-manufactured Civia EMU, operated by Renfe. A fuel cell hybrid power pack will be fitted on this train. The packaged fuel cell system modules will come from Toyota Motor Europe, while CAF itself will supply the batteries and power converters.
Both the functional tests and trial runs for approval will be conducted on Spanish and Portuguese tracks with the support of the two national infrastructure managers, ADIF and IP. The Spanish hydrogen research centre Centro National de Hidrogeno will construct a hydrogen fuelling station.
“We embrace this opportunity of working within the consortium to bring our fuel cell technology to another type of hydrogen application. Hydrogen has an important role to play in helping decarbonise Europe's railways, and we are excited to integrate Toyota fuel cell modules into the 'Fuel Cell Hybrid Power Pack'.”
The design team has to solve the problem of combining the fuel cell and battery modules in such a way that the system meets all the requirements while remaining cost-effective. Research will also go into how the waste heat from the fuel cells can be used rather than wasted, for example by using it to heat and air-condition the train. As part of the project air-conditioning manufacturer Faiverley / Stemmann Technik and the German Aerospace Center are examining solutions for cutting down the HVAC energy demand.
An area of research for the project will be the norms and standards for hydrogen and rail transport. There must be a safe interaction between the hydrogen technology and overhead line equipment at all times. One of the outcomes of this will be for the project team to make recommendations to the authorities responsible so that EU approvals of these kinds of trains becomes easier in the future.
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