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Germany Premieres the World's First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Train

Trains are synonym with electric transportation, but that's not entirely true. Even in the most technologically advanced countries, there are still plenty of railroad tracks that don't have electrification.
Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell train 7 photos
Coradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell trainCoradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell trainCoradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell trainCoradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell trainCoradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell trainCoradia iLint hydrogen fuel cell train
In this cases, the good old diesel engine is called upon, and we all know what they do to the environment and, consequently, to our health. So all those ecology preachers who urge people to use trains more often should accompany their recommendation by an asterisk: especially if your commute overlaps with an electrified route.

A French company called Alstom is trying to find a solution to this problem by replacing the diesel engine with something that has zero emissions. Well, zero harmful emissions, because their prototype does produce some steam and water. Sounds familiar? Many years ago, Honda made headlines with its car that would pour pure water out of its tailpipe. It was called Clarity FCX and it used a hydrogen fuel cell generator to power its electric motor.

This technology has lost momentum lately after some voices argued that creating liquid hydrogen and then turning it into electricity wasn't a very energy efficient method. For the car industry, it also meant that a new parallel infrastructure had to be built, so everybody had to be on board for it to happen.

If the fuel cell solution hit some obstacles in the car industry, it might make a little more sense when it comes to trains. The infrastructure part is dealt with easily since trains follow very clear routes, so adding hydrogen refueling pumps at every train station should suffice. Besides, the size of the batteries needed to power the electric motor of a train engine would make it extremely expensive, not to mention very heavy.

Alstom's hydrogen fuel train is built on an existing model - the Lint - but with a few very important modifications that have earned the name of iLint. The hydrogen tanks and the fuel cell are located on the roof, while the lithium-ion batteries, the converter, and the inverter sit underneath the passenger compartment, together with the electric motor.

Die Welt tells us that the iLint will begin its runs on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in the northwestern German state of Lower Saxony by the end of next year, but there's already an order for 14 iLints from Germany, with operators from other countries such as Norway, Holland or Denmark showing their interest as well.

The only real two questions surrounding the success of the iLint is how much will it cost - Alstom keeps that a secret for now - and how easily available will the liquid hydrogen be? If those are taken care of, then the iLint should be a hit as it's cheaper to run - especially if we consider the inevitable rise in the price of the fossil fuels - and cheaper to maintain. Not to mention 100 percent pollution free.


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