The University of St Andrews' Hydrogen Accelerator is being used as part of the Zero Emissions train project, which aims to decarbonise the entire Scottish train fleet by 2035.
Scottish scientists are working to power a train by using hydrogen fuel cells by the end of 2021. Projections estimate that a fully working demonstration model will be operational by November, and debut at Glasgow’s COP26. The project is being led by Arcola Energy, and it is hoped that the entire Scottish train fleet will be decarbonized by 2035.
Dr. Ben Todd, the CEO of Arcola Energy, has high hopes for the impact of this project. He said, “Hydrogen traction power offers a safe, reliable, and zero-carbon alternative for Scotland’s rail network.
“The hydrogen train project is an excellent opportunity for industry leaders in hydrogen, rail engineering, and safety to collaborate with Scottish technology providers to develop a deployment ready solution. We are delighted to be working with Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland and the Hydrogen Accelerator, to support Scotland’s strategy to make passenger railways emission free by 2035.”
The project, based at the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, involves integrating a fuel cell power system into a former ScotRail Class 314 car passenger train. A fuel cell works by combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. To power the train, the fuel cell is made by combining an anode, cathode, and electrolyte membrane.
The charge created by the fuel cell power system can either be sent to the electric motor of the train, or stored in lithium batteries. Stored hydrogen passes through the anode, splitting into electrons and protons. The electrons are then forced through a channel, producing an electric charge, the byproducts of which are water and heat.
A number of additional groups are working alongside Arcola energy to complete the project by its ambitious target date. Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland, and Abbott Risk Consulting are all involved, as well as engineering consultancy Arup and Hydrogen Accelerator, a St Andrews based start-up. Arup and Hydrogen Accelerator are working together to chart mainline deployment of all hydrogen-powered trains across Scotland.
Third party safety certification and compliance verification will be performed by AEGIS Certification Services.
Claire Lavelle, Scotland Energy business lead at Arup, said, “With Scotland’s focus on achieving net zero emissions by 2035 and rail playing a leading role in this, hydrogen offers a safe, reliable, and zero carbon alternative to other forms of rail propulsion.”
She continued, “This project is not only a crucial step in helping us understand the practical challenges of using hydrogen traction power on our railways, but an example of the type of investment Scotland needs to take advantage of the opportunity to build a secure, flexible, cost effective and zero carbon energy network.”
The hydrogen powered train is only one piece of achieving Scotland’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions. Transportation Secretary Michael Matheson said, “This project has the potential to be a game changer for the future of Scotland’s rail rolling stock.
“Our Rail decarbonisation Action Plan sets out to make our passenger railways emissions free by 2035, but to maximise our climate change ambitions, there is also a requirement to look at what we do with retired stock. If we can bring those back into use in a carbon neutral way, there are huge climate gains to be made.”
A working model of the train will first be demonstrated at the COP26, which is a UN summit designed to help meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement as well as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Scotland is not the only country pursuing the use of more energy-efficient trains. Scientists at the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nuremberg are also working on using hydrogen fuel cells to produce the electricity needed to power trains. An organic carrier liquid functions as a liquid deposit bottle for hydrogen, with one litre of liquid binding over 650 litres of hydrogen.