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Full steam ahead: hydrogen train boosted by EU climate goals

Alstom's Coradia iLint hydrogen train
Alstom's Coradia iLint hydrogen train Copyright France Televisions
Copyright France Televisions
By Jay Marques & Natalie Huet
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As the European Commission pushes for cleaner fuels to fight global warming, hydrogen could mean the end of the line for diesel-powered locomotives.


The European Commission is championing hydrogen as one of the most promising sources of energy for an environmentally friendly future.

Hydrogen, which doesn’t release any carbon dioxide, is already being used to power a train built by French manufacturer Alstom.

The Coradia iLint train, which has been successfully running in northern Germany for nearly two years, can transport 300 passengers at a speed of around 110 kilometers per hour.

It uses hydrogen fuel cells to generate its own electricity and has been designed specifically for non-electrified lines. It’s the first regional train of this kind to have entered commercial service.

"The only emission is water, mainly as steam with some water drops," said Stefan Schrank, project manager of Coradia iLint Alstom.

Alstom hopes its new model can replace trains running on fossil fuels such as diesel. Already 41 of its Coradia iLint hydrogen trains have been ordered by rail companies in Germany.

Diesel-powered trains emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as well as particulates that can cause a range of health problems.

"Overall, there are 5,000 diesel trains to replace in Europe," said Brahim Soua, Vice-President of Alstom`'s regional trains platform.

"It is a solution for the future because the performance of hydrogen is perfectly capable of replacing diesel with the same or even greater autonomy."

Going green

In its race towards climate neutrality in 2050, the European Commission recently unveiled a plan to develop "green hydrogen".

The move aims to help meet the European Green Deal's goal of making the bloc carbon-neutral by 2050. Currently, the energy sector accounts for 75 per cent of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions.

Analysts estimate that clean hydrogen could meet nearly a quarter of the world’s energy demand by 2050, with annual sales in the range of €630 billion. In Europe, that could translate into 1 million jobs in the hydrogen value chain.

On Wednesday, Alstom and Eversholt Rail unveiled a plan to invest more than €1 million in hydrogen trains in the UK.

Germany has already jumped aboard with plans to invest €9 billion to boost its hydrogen capacity, as part of efforts to reduce the country's reliance on coal.

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