Top 5 reasons hydrogen has a place in the future of rail

Photo is courtesy of Alstrom

Cummins Inc. is the only company in the world powering hydrogen trains in commercial operation. In 2016, Cummins partnered with customer Alstom, a French railway equipment manufacturer, to engineer, supply, and integrate the hydrogen fuel cell solution in its Coradia iLint trains. The trains entered commercial service in 2018 and can carry up to 150 seated passengers and 150 standing passengers. They will start operating later this year through 2022 in Lower Saxony, and there is interest from other German federal states and other European countries to use the trains for non-electrified tracks. 

While many alternative propulsion concepts are still in the development and research stage, hydrogen for rail application is already here. Why has hydrogen been ahead of the curve? In honor of 2021 being named the European Year of Rail, here are five great reasons why hydrogen has a place in the future of the railway industry.

  1. Trains powered by hydrogen have zero emissions at the point of use. The power required for the train’s systems is supplied via a fuel cell, which generates energy by combining the hydrogen stored on the train’s roof with oxygen in the air. There are no emissions of carbon dioxide in this process. They are also efficient: fuel cells are up to three times more efficient than internal combustion engines.
  2. Hydrogen trains can be deployed anywhere and retrofitted into existing trains and lines.  The majority of lines across Europe and the U.S., particularly rural lines and lines with little consumer demand, are yet to be converted to carry electric trains. Hydrogen trains represent a cost-effective alternative that doesn’t sacrifice efficiency or emissions. They can simply run on existing rail infrastructure without the high cost of adding electrification. Cummins fuel cell solutions are flexible and scalable in their configuration and can be customized to fit customers’ needs optimally.
  3. Hydrogen fuel cell trains have an exceptionally long range of up to 1000 kilometers at a maximum speed of 140km/h between refueling—ten times farther than battery powered electric trains. And refueling is quick: hydrogen powered trains can run for 18 or more hours after less than 20 minutes of refueling.
  4. Fuel cells are cost effective and low maintenance. The total lifetime cost of ownership is already comparable for trains running on diesel or electrified lines, according to a report by consulting firm Roland Berger. There is a long asset life compared to electrification, and repairs are often as simple as swapping out one plug-in component for another. 
  5. Trains powered by hydrogen are quiet and comfortable. Hydrogen provides a smooth driving experience and emits low noise levels due to the exhaust being only steam and condensed water. This is especially important in urban areas where noise pollution is an issue. 

To support the continued expansion of hydrogen fuel systems, Cummins recently announced the ground-breaking of a new facility in Herten Germany to support the production of fuel cell systems for the hundreds of hydrogen trains to be in service over the next several years in Europe with Alstom. The facility is currently prioritizing the assembly of fuel cell systems, while actively working on expansion plans to support fuel cell stack refurbishment.

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Catherine Morgenstern - Cummins Inc.

Catherine Morgenstern

Catherine Morgenstern is a Brand Journalist for Cummins, covering topics such as alternative propulsion, digitalization, manufacturing innovation, autonomy, sustainability, and workplace trends. She has more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications, holding leadership positions most recently within the Industrial Capital Goods sector.

Catherine began her career as a marketing writer for a biotechnology company, where she learned to take complicated and highly technical information and make it accessible to everyone. She believes the concept of “storytelling” is more than a trendy buzzword and loves to find ways for her readers to make personal connections to her subjects. Catherine has a passion for technology and innovation and how its intersection can make an impact in all our lives.

Catherine recently moved back to her hometown in the Hudson Valley, New York after a several decades in Los Angeles and Chicago. She is a graduate of UCLA and enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband and three children.

A city quarter built on renewable energy opens in Esslingen, Germany

Cummins electrolyzers power climate-neutral urban district

Across the globe are renowned urban quarters – cities within cities that capture the hearts of travelers with their rich history and architecture. New Orleans has the historic French Quarter, Cuba has New Havana and now Esslingen, Germany, has the world’s first largely climate-neutral urban quarter powered by Cummins electrolyzers.

This urban quarter is considered a "lighthouse" project, a small-scale but big-picture project that will serve as a model – or lighthouse – for similar projects in the future. Developed by scientists in Esslingen and Stuttgart and funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and Federal Ministry of Education and Research, this lighthouse project combines hydrogen technology and photovoltaics to create an energy center that fully connects all aspects of infrastructure with everyday urban life.

Named Neue Weststadt (which translates to New West Town), the newly opened quarter spans 100,000 square meters with over 450 apartments, office buildings and commercial space. A city quarter of this caliber has never been attempted before and is a historic milestone for climate-neutral living. It has been three years in the making to transform a former freight yard into the future blueprint for near zero-emission urban centers.

To make New Weststadt and climate neutrality possible, the quarter needed to integrate solar hydrogen technology for use in urban development to achieve an energy supply that should cause zero climate-damaging emissions and reduce energy consumption without reducing the comfort of living.  

Lifting the Cummins HySTAT® 100-10 into the underground energy center
Lifting the Cummins HySTAT® 100-10 into the underground energy center | © Green Hydrogen Esslingen GmbH

Powering the heart of Esslingen

Photovoltaic (PV) power is the root for the quarter’s renewable energy supply. PV systems are comprised of one or more solar panels combined with an inverter and additional electrical and mechanical hardware to harness energy from the sun to generate electricity. These panels are positioned on the roofs of the buildings in New Weststadt and will work in tandem with the heart of the quarter’s energy center – Cummins electrolyzers.

Commissioned in May, this installation of our electrolyzers was unique from the start. The HySTAT® 100-10 is typically used for indoor electrolyzer projects, but for New Weststadt, we installed the two electrolyzer systems in the energy center’s lower basement. This required unique design elements for hydrogen zoning, access to the basement and installing the vent line out of the basement to meet safety standards. Cummins adapted to these challenges and was able to install the electrolyzer systems in the basement prior to the closing of the basement roof.

Cummins electrolyzer stack
Cummins electrolyzer stack | © Maximilian Kamps, Agency Blumberg GmbH

The energy center is located in the middle of New Weststadt and was built as an underground structure to meet urban planning requirements. The two HySTAT® 100-10 electrolyzers have utilities on separate skids (instrument air, reverse osmosis). They are integrated with heat management to recover excess heat from the electrolysis process and with electric management to regulate H2 production from photovoltaic power.

Taking the surplus renewable energy from the PV systems and from the supra-regional generation, the electrolyzers will create green hydrogen through electrolysis. The excess heat generated by the electrolysis process is captured and put back into the power supply, while green H2 is stored for later use according to the quarter’s energy demands.  

Connecting power, heat, cooling and mobility

The quarter's connection of the electricity, heating, cooling and mobility sector are all combined at the local level. The crosslinked infrastructure covers the demand of heating and hot water in the buildings and provides cooling energy in the summer through absorption cooling systems.

The stored energy from the electrolysis process can be quickly and easily converted back into electricity in combined heat and power plants. The hydrogen produced will also be fed into the quarter's natural gas grid to contribute to the decarbonization of the gas sector. There are also future plans to build an H2 filling station and a gas grid feed-in station on site.

The linked energy supply is important for long-term and sustainable urban development. This climate district is projected to produce 85 tons of hydrogen per year. A portion of that hydrogen will be stored to use as power for the quarter, while the rest will be loaded into hydrogen trailers and transported to customers in the industrial or public transport sector in Germany.

Every aspect of this virtually climate-neutral city quarter was designed to work as a holistic system through the energy center and monitored using a digital information network and energy management system (EMS). The EMS is meant to increase self-provision of localized renewable energy, while interacting with the quarter’s power grid in an energy-efficient manner and minimizing CO2 emissions.

A blueprint for the future of climate-neutral living

The first of the apartment buildings was completed two years prior to Neue Weststadt’s official opening, and residents have already begun living in their new, climate-neutral homes.

Local public transport is being redesigned to replace existing diesel buses with electric hybrid buses, a wider range of public and semi-public charging stations for electric vehicles are being installed and preparations are being made for a second expansion to build a H2-filling station.

An aerial view shows the photovoltaics installed on the rooftops of Neue Weststadt buildings | Nw_Luftbild_Innenhof-Bela
An aerial view shows the photovoltaics installed on the rooftops of Neue Weststadt buildings | © Maximilian Kamps, Agency Blumberg GmbH

The Klimaquartier Neue Weststadt project developed into a truly unique urban quarter and is now a beacon and blueprint for future climate-neutral urban quarters. It’s official opening on June 22 was just the beginning, and we are excited to see how a community built on renewable energy will undoubtedly influence the future of climate-neutral living.

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Katherine de Guia

Communications Specialist - New Power

Cummins CEO: U.S. needs to put a ‘cost on carbon’ to meet Paris Climate Accords

Cummins Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger

Jim Cramer, host of the popular show, Mad Money, thinks that hydrogen just may be the cleaner, greener fuel source that the world’s been craving. He recently spoke to Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc., about hydrogen’s role in the path to zero emissions and Cummins’ role in expanding access to hydrogen.

In the conversation, Linebarger emphasized that innovation is not new at Cummins. Since the early 1970s and in alignment with the Clean Air Act, the company has employed a number of new technologies to improve emissions from diesel engines – but it’s the next level of innovation, low carbon technologies, that are now necessary for the planet and for our markets.

While Cummins will play an important role, it’s a task so big that even its 58,000 global employees can’t do it alone. 

“We need partners. I need to say that as clearly as I can. There is so much to do here. There’s infrastructure to build. There’s systems to build out,” Linebarger explained. “We’re trying to partner in as many places as we can because there is so much to do to get this green economy going, and hydrogen has so much potential. We need everybody’s oar in the water.”

In addition to collective action by industry, governments and policymakers will need to drive change. One of the most critical policy developments being discussed is an economy-wide price on carbon.

“We’re going to have to put a cost on carbon if we’re really going to make the level of investments we need to at the speed we need to make sure we can meet the [goals established in the] Paris Climate Accords,” he added.

Learn about one of Cummins’ most recent investments in green hydrogen production in Spain.

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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.

Hydrogen fuel cell trains are on the fast track

Poland Train Debut
Alstom’s Coradia iLint is pulling into the station as Poland’s first hydrogen fuel cell passenger train

The latest stop: Poland

The green economy is ever evolving, and changing how we approach passenger transportation is part of that evolution. We have seen electric city buses and hybrid passenger vehicles gain increasing popularity, but what about railways? 

Passenger train manufacturers are looking to hydrogen fuel cells, and to Cummins, to provide zero-emissions power for railways all around the world. French railway manufacturer Alstom is a world leader in green and smart mobility and is among the first to develop hydrogen fuel cell-powered passenger trains. It has introduced the world's first passenger hydrail*, the Coradia iLint, which is making its latest stop in Poland. 

The Coradia iLint is powered by Cummins fuel cell modules that run on hydrogen. These modules are designed to turn existing, non-electrified infrastructure into zero-emission rail lines. After an initial test demonstration in Germany in 2017 that covered more than 180,000 km, the Coradia iLint has run demonstrations throughout Austria, Netherlands and France. It has been in successful commercial service since 2018. In 2021, the Coradia iLint in Germany earned the European Railway Award as the first hydrogen passenger train in mainline operation.

Most recently, the hydrail made its debut on the Railway Research Institute's test track in Żmigród, near Wrocław in Poland. Alstom teams presented the hydrail to a variety of local stakeholders, including regional operators, transport authorities, government decision-makers and leading media. Alstom highlighted the potential of the Coradia iLint as a viable, sustainable transport system in Poland. The showcase followed the announcement of Poland’s National Recovery Plan, which includes provisions for the introduction of 30 low-emission trains for Polish regional operators by 2026.

With Cummins as a key partner in the development and implementation of hydrogen fuel cell systems for Alstom's Coradia iLint, we’re demonstrating our ability to provide customers with the right solutions at the right time. 

*Hydrail: the generic term used to describe any rail vehicle, regardless of size, powered by hydrogen technology

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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.

Our next step in advancing fuel cell technology

Fuel cells have come a long way since they were first successfully demonstrated in the early 19th century by Humphry Davy. They were first heavily used for outer space missions, including the Apollo 11 flight in 1969, which not only carried the first man to the moon but also three fuel cell stacks to power all the equipment in the space module.

Each decade since has seen fuel cells advance, as commercialization in a variety of applications accelerated. The new millennium also saw a resurgence of interest in fuel cell capabilities due to the increased concerns over carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of traditional energy production.

Cummins has long been at the forefront of low-carbon technologies with the goal of reducing emissions, and we have been researching fuel cells for more than 20 years. In addition to offering Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells and electrolyzer technology, we are also working on the next step towards clean, reliable power sources with solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). 

Which industries are SOFCs most suitable for?

Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are suitable for a variety of industries that may want to generate on-site power to achieve greater energy resiliency and lower emissions. These include commercial, industrial and institutional facilities (i.e., data centers, grocery stores and universities, etc.). SOFCs can also be centralized as fuel cell power plants where utilities sell the energy on to end customers as part of their power generation portfolio.

Why would a customer choose SOFCs over other technologies?

Generally, SOFCs are a more energy efficient option compared to traditional energy production sources and offer greater flexibility in the type of fuel that can be used. A number of fuel options include natural gas, propane, ammonia, hydrogen, hydrogen-blended gas and biogas. Even when using a carbon-based fuel like natural gas, SOFCs produce lower levels of carbon dioxide compared to traditional generators. This is due to the lack of combustion. Lack of moving parts also allow the fuel cell system to operate quieter with more reliability, making SOFCs a desirable power source for busy city centers.

Several fuel cells can be combined, or “stacked,” to achieve a high kW output from a single fuel cell module. A single fuel cell has the approximate thickness of a No. 2 pencil eraser (5mm) and produces a limited amount of power (a few watts). Because several fuel cell modules can be combined, their modular design provides increased flexibility for building generation capacity.

Beyond the efficiency and reliability advantages of fuel cells, a growing number of countries and regions are also offering incentives for businesses to invest in fuel cells. For instance, the U.S. has a long history of supporting energy infrastructure through U.S. tax code and offers the Federal Fuel Cell Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

What role do SOFCs play in the energy transition?

Cummins is using the SOFC technology as the basis for ongoing development work today. Within both the SOFC and PEM fuel cell space, Cummins is also working to leverage fuel cell technology for electrolysis to produce green fuels, like hydrogen, and synthetic fuels. These technologies are part of Cummins' broader energy production portfolio, including traditional combustion generators, electrolyzers, lithium-ion batteries and PEM fuel cells.

Currently, natural gas is the most suitable fuel to power fuel cells due to distribution infrastructure (well sites, processing plants and pipelines to move the gas) in place and the fact that it offers lower emissions than other fossil fuels, like oil and coal. As zero-carbon energy production advances, the goal is to fuel SOFCs using hydrogen or other zero-carbon fuels. When SOFCs run on zero-carbon fuels they become a zero-emissions power source.

Cummins continues to be a leader in the global energy transition through our participation in innovation conversations and leadership of a number of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects related to hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. These initiatives align with the company’s larger environmental sustainability strategy, PLANET 2050. There are still more advancements to be made in the fuel cell space, and Cummins is forging ahead to unlock the full potential of solid oxide fuel cells.

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From long-range possibilities to innovations happening now, Net Zero News delivers monthly highlights for low-carbon energy. Subscribe today to receive the first issue in your inbox.

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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