Power to passenger trains: How hydrogen can revolutionize railway operations in Europe

Alstom hydrogen-powered train
Copyright Alstom/Rene Frampe

Hydrogen fuel cells are recognized as one of the keys to a carbon-neutral future, and that future is now. 

Powering a passenger train with hydrogen. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but in Europe, this is now a reality.

Cummins’ customers can depend on a range of technologies from diesel and natural gas, to fully electric and hydrogen solutions. As the demand for zero-emission transportation increases, alternative technologies continue to be the right solution for customers around the globe. Hydrogen fuel cells are recognized as one of the innovative solutions necessary for a carbon-neutral future, generating enough energy to power passenger trains.

The French railway manufacturer Alstom shows what the successful development of such a hydrogen train could look like. Alstom is among the first railway manufacturers in the world to develop a passenger train based on such a technology, with the first trains in regular service running in the northern German town of Bremervörde and now Austria. Cummins’ fuel cell and hydrogen technologies business, formerly known as Hydrogenics, supplied the necessary fuel cells. 

The start of the journey

In 2015, Hydrogenics—now part of Cummins—was selected as a key partner by Alstom to develop and implement hydrogen fuel cell systems for Alstom’s iLint, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train. The train was first previewed at the Innotrans exhibition in Berlin in 2016, with the first test drive taking place in Germany the following year. With a range of up to 1000 kilometers per each hydrogen tank fueling, the fuel cell train matches the miles per fueling performance of conventional regional trains, with lower environmental impact and lower noise levels while having a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour. 

Alstom hydrogen powered train
Copyright Alstom/Rene Frampe

Rather than using the overhead wiring, hydrogen fuel cell technology is an alternative approach to electrifying passenger trains using existing rail infrastructure. In this case, hydrogen fuel cell power modules on the top of the train car are at the heart of the system and provide sufficient energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel cells work by extracting oxygen from the ambient air, while the storage tanks supply the hydrogen demand. The fuel cells and the hydrogen tanks are mounted on the roof of the train. When in motion, the fuel cell powered passenger train emits only water vapor, which is the only by-product of the hydrogen and oxygen reaction in the fuel cell, a truly clean energy conversion.

Since September 2018, two hydrogen fuel cell trains have been successfully used in commercial service in northern Germany, each of which is equipped with approximately 150 seats. Since the prosperous launch of the hydrogen fuel cell trains, increasingly more railway operators have expressed interest in the emission-free alternative. As a result, Alstom announced a trial in the Netherlands which will test further hydrogen powered trains in spring 2020. First serial production of 14 iLints, Alstom’s hydrogen powered train, will start operating in 2021 in Lower Saxony. Additionally, Alstom will supply 27 hydrogen trains until the end of 2022 for operations in the Rhine-Main region. There is interest from other German federal states and in other European countries to use the train for not electrified tracks. Offering this kind of mobility, the French manufacturer is a worldwide pioneer for fuel cell mobility in passenger trains and active promoter of sustainable mobility.

The future is now

“By providing hydrogen fuel cell solutions for powering passenger trains in Europe, we have proven our capabilities in this field and proven our ability to power our customer’s success. To meet changing regulatory standards and future environmental and energy goals, we understand that for us and our customers to be successful over the long-term we must have a broad product portfolio powered by multiple energy sources. Providing hydrogen fuel cell solutions is taking us one step further to meet the evolving needs of our customers,” said Amy Adams, Vice President – Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Technologies. 

Looking ahead, hydrogen continues to be a promising technology, enabling clean mobility for a more sustainable future.
 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Cummins breaks ground at new fuel cell systems production facility in Germany

Cummins breaks ground at new fuel cell systems production facility in Germany

In November 2020, we shared the exciting news that Cummins will open a new facility in Herten, Germany in 2021. The facility will initially focus on the assembly of fuel cell systems, with plans to expand in the future to support fuel cell stack refurbishment.

With the capacity of 10 megawatts per year and space for research and development, the facility will “better position us to provide critical support to customers in Europe and strategically strengthen our position to be a leader in tomorrow’s hydrogen economy,” said Amy Davis, President of New Power at Cummins.

To mark the start of construction, an official ground-breaking ceremony took place late last year at the site, attended by the Transport Minister Hendrik Wüst, Mayor Matthias Müller, District Administrator Bodo Klimpel, H2-Network-Ruhr Board Member Volker Linder, Member of the State Parliament Carsten Locker, Cummins Managing Director Fuel Cells Bernd Pitschak and others involved with the project. Due to COVID-19 the guestlist was smaller than planned and all social distancing protocols were observed.

Once an old mine, the site is now a nucleus for emission-free energy. The city of Herten has long been committed to attracting technology companies, particularly in the new energy space. “We are very pleased with this building project. It is a milestone in the efforts of the town of Herten to become a significant location for hydrogen technology,” said Mayor Matthias Müller.

With a number of successes in Europe already, and construction well underway, the site adds to the list of New Power facilities in the region, including Oevel, Belgium, Gladbeck, Germany and Milton Keynes, UK.

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Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Gray to green: carbon-neutral hydrogen applications you might not know about

From gray to green: Carbon-neutral hydrogen applications

By the end of this article you'll know so much about gray and green hydrogen that you'll have to pinch yourself. 

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and all the green that comes with it, we want to discuss what it means to go from gray to green hydrogen.

We’ve covered the basics of electrolyzers, and you might already be familiar with some common applications for hydrogen such as fuel cell electric trucks and trains. But what about those applications that go beyond on-and off-highway?

Hydrogen has numerous applications that you may not be as familiar with, and it’s these applications that hold the potential to completely transform the way the world uses power – and what our carbon footprint looks like while doing so.

Decarbonizing industries with hydrogen is no simple task, but major progress is being made in turning “gray” hydrogen (some associated emissions) into “green” hydrogen (zero emissions). Read on to learn more about the different ways hydrogen can power our world with zero emissions.

Power Grid Balancing

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Similar to the concept of supply and demand in economics, an electrical grid also deals with differences between its power supply and the power demanded of it. Electrical grids can’t tailor their power output to how many people are blow drying their hair, turning on their dishwasher or turning on their Christmas lights at any given moment. That’s good news because it means you’ll almost always have power available to you when you need it, but it’s also bad news because it means a lot of power generation capacity can be underutilized at times.

That’s where electrolyzers come in. Electrolyzers can be used to balance the electrical grid and get compensated for doing so. Excess energy from the electrical grid can be used to power electrolyzers, which make hydrogen. Hydrogen can store this excess energy and be used in a number of applications without emissions. Because this is a paid service that the electrolyzer offers to stabilize the electrical network, this helps to reduce the total cost of hydrogen.

But it doesn’t stop at electrical grids. Hydrogen generation can also be used as a means of storing fluctuating power from renewable energy sources. One of the limiting factors of solar is that they are not always available when we need them and sometimes, this means valuable power is wasted.

Once again, electrolyzers come to the rescue. Excess (clean) energy from renewable sources like wind and solar can power electrolyzers to make green hydrogen without any associated emissions. As more fluctuating renewable energy sources get added to power grids, electrolyzers and hydrogen will prove even more vital in the production of green hydrogen. The hydrogen produced allows this clean renewable energy to be used to fuel heavy-duty bus, truck or commuter train fleets and decarbonize the natural gas grid. As more fluctuating renewable energy sources get added to power grids, electrolyzers and hydrogen will prove even more vital in the production of green hydrogen.

Power to Gas

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Even applications that don’t run on hydrogen fuel cells can benefit from lower emissions because of hydrogen. One way to do this is injecting the natural gas pipeline with hydrogen. Think of it as a gas cocktail — the same way you might add club soda to make a drink a little lighter, hydrogen can be added to natural gas to lower its carbon content and reduce its carbon emissions.

Cummins and Enbridge announced at the end of 2020 that the hydrogen we produce to balance the grid will be injected in the natural gas pipeline network in order to “green” the gas supply. Emissions regulations worldwide are changing, and soon some countries and states may impose a minimum percentage of renewable natural gas required in the natural gas grid. This minimum percentage is bound to increase over time, demanding practical solutions like hydrogen blending.

Sustainable Fertilizer

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As our world continues to reckon with a climate crisis, it’s become evident that we need to pursue greener hydrogen from every angle possible, including its use in agriculture.

The ammonia industry is one of the biggest consumers of hydrogen across the world. Around half of the current worldwide production of hydrogen is used to make ammonia, which, in turn, is principally used to make fertilizers. Since more than 95% of the world’s hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, also known as grey hydrogen, the production of ammonia is responsible for nearly 2% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions!

The good news is that replacing the gray hydrogen used in the production of fertilizer with green hydrogen (made through zero-emission electrolysis) would produce a truly sustainable fertilizer.

The interest in reducing the carbon intensity of fertilizer is growing. With regulatory incentives and carbon taxes, this shift to using green will accelerate — making it a cost-effective alternative that’s better for the environment and the agriculture industry.

Greener Ethanol and Methanol

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Ethanol is currently used to reduce emissions of the gas that powers cars and other vehicles that have traditional gas engines. Most gas that powers cars and trucks (excluding diesel) in the U.S. contains up to 10% ethanol — some fuel made for E-85 compatible engines contains up to 85% ethanol. Ethanol is usually made by fermenting feedstock like corn, especially in places like the Midwest where corn is abundant.

Our opportunity to create greener ethanol, though, lies in the production of ethanol or methanol from carbon and hydrogen. Similar to ammonia, the hydrogen in ethanol comes mostly from natural gas, which generates carbon emissions that are harmful to the environment.

With the right technology and infrastructure, the gray hydrogen that goes into ethanol can be replaced with green hydrogen. This can lower the carbon emissions of the gas we use to power cars, trucks and anything running on a gas engine.

You may be more familiar with ethanol than you think. It’s actually alcohol — yes, the kind you can drink! If distilled multiple times, the same ethanol that can make our gasoline more green can be consumed in a drink. We’re speaking chemically here, of course, so don’t go trying this at home and please leave it to the professional distillers. In fact, a company called the Air Co. makes a carbon-negative vodka from air and green hydrogen. On the other hand, methanol is a non-drinking type of alcohol with various traditional applications such as in the chemical sector (paint, fleece, plywood, etc.) blended to make cleaner fuels and used to produce energy when used as a fuel. One of the benefits of methanol is that it is much easier to transport than hydrogen in gaseous or liquid form, therefore, companies around the world are looking at exporting green methanol as a commodity.

Carbon-neutral Jet Fuel

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Green hydrogen isn’t limited to ground-level applications and it has the potential to power a Boeing 737. With the right engineering, planes could fly on jet fuel made from a process of combining CO2 captured from the air and green hydrogen.

While it may not be 100% green from well to wheel — turbine combustion will create some emissions — the difference is that it is carbon-neutral fuel, meaning the CO2 captured in producing the fuel is released during combustion, so there is no net CO2 released. In short, we could soon see green jet fuel in the “well” part of the equation — aeronautical engineering is still working on greening the “wheel” half.

It’s evident that the “green equation” is quite complicated. There are a lot of factors that go into establishing hydrogen as one of many potential solutions to reducing worldwide fossil fuel emissions and ultimately mitigating the climate crisis.

But where there are questions, there are answers to be found — and Cummins is up for the challenge. Over the past century, we’ve ushered in new technologies that others didn’t believe in or found impractical or even impossible. With 100 years of experience in innovation and a commitment to developing sustainable power, Cummins is all in on hydrogen as a power solution for the future.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Cummins moves the future of Hydrogen forward with new coalition

Cummins hydrogen technology

We believe hydrogen holds the key to a decarbonized future. As a founding member of the new Hydrogen Forward initiative, Cummins is partnering with other energy leaders to advocate for the advancement and adoption of hydrogen technology across the U.S.

Cummins has been hard at work building relationships with other leaders in the hydrogen space in order to push hydrogen forward as an energy solution. The latest of these efforts is the newly-formed Hydrogen Forward initiative.

Hydrogen Forward is a coalition of 11 companies focused on advancing hydrogen development in the U.S. As a founding member, Cummins is proud to join these partners in advocating for progress.

Uniquely Positioned to Influence

From source to service, Cummins is involved in every link in the hydrogen value chain. Whether it’s in production and transportation or powertrains and storage, we have projects operating in almost every step of the hydrogen journey.

In addition to our technology, Cummins’ long-standing relationships are a major catalyst for progress. Cummins has a 100-year history of working with customers to find the right technology and applications to get the job done. We serve customers in 190 countries and territories, with a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in virtually every industry.

These partnerships are one of the key values Cummins brings to Hydrogen Forward. Customers trust Cummins to provide the right power at the right time, and that facilitates major potential for Hydrogen Forward to advocate on behalf of the customers who will be using hydrogen technologies someday — even in hard-to-abate sectors like construction, mining and marine.

Leading by Example

Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger is on the board of the Hydrogen Council, a global group of CEOs and leaders looking to promote hydrogen in aid of decarbonization. In conversations among global policymakers, it’s become evident that the U.S. is significantly behind compared to progress being made in Europe and in Asia.

That’s why we set out to take Cummins’ existing efforts one step further, gathering partners to start a concerted effort to promote hydrogen adoption. This progress doesn’t just take the form of policy — Hydrogen Forward will aim to inspire policymakers to imagine greater possibilities for hydrogen as renewable power.

Cummins’ innovation is born out of both curiosity and commitment. These values are shared by the other members of Hydrogen Forward — global power leaders ready to encourage open minds, exploration and ultimately investment in the value of hydrogen by policymakers. With their partnership on Hydrogen Forward, Cummins has the power to make vital progress quickly in the interest of decarbonization.

Power in Partnership

By uniting cross-sectoral experts throughout the economy-wide value chain of hydrogen, Hydrogen Forward will create opportunity for vital conversations with policymakers around shared interests and goals for cleaner power. By aligning in advocacy for hydrogen, we can gain considerable influence and start making changes that will shape the future of our planet as we know it.

While Hydrogen Forward is in its early stages, focus will be on starting conversations and promoting open-mindedness while more large-scale changes and supportive policies are on the horizon. By initiating momentum along with our partners in Hydrogen Forward, we’re confident that big wins are on the way.

The current moment holds tremendous opportunity for quick progress in hydrogen technology. With the U.S. on the precipice of investing potentially over one trillion dollars in decarbonization, hydrogen is well-suited to be a key enabler of job creation and a nationwide transition to new sources of clean energy. Innovation is happening, and Cummins is ready to dive in with Hydrogen Forward.

Learn more about Hydrogen Forward at www.hydrogenforward.org.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

If you were a New Power application, which one would you be?

Cummins New Power applications

Cummins is the 101-year old company that has something to say about alternative power and the future of energy. As the world’s largest independent diesel manufacturer, we know a lot about our diverse commercial markets and customers. Today, Cummins continues to add to our product portfolio to ensure we're well positioned to power the world for the next 100 years. One of the ways we are doing this is by investing in a broad range of clean, fuel-efficient technologies through New Power, the company's newest business segment. New Power's portfolio of battery electric, hybrid, fuel cell and hydrogen technologies is ready to unveil the potential of a decarbonized future.

Our New Power technologies power a variety of different applications, each one with its own features... or distinct personality you might say. So, we wondered: If you were one of the applications powered by New Power technologies, which application would you be?
 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

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