• Emma Gatrell

University of St Andrews’ Hydrogen Train Showcased at COP26

During COP26, the University of St Andrews’ hydrogen train project was showcased to invited guests from all around the world. This project is led by Professor John Irvine’s Hydrogen Accelerator team at the school of chemistry at the University. COP26 was the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference held in Glasgow to try and meet the objectives of the Paris Climate Change Agreement as well as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The train is based at the Bo’ness rail heritage centre, where visitors came to see the progress. The project entails the conversion and reuse of a 40-year-old three-car Class 314 train to a hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain. A fuel cell works by combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. To power the train, an anode, cathode, and electrolyte membrane are combined to make a fuel cell. 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 by-products of which are water and heat. The train is being developed by a group which includes the University of St Andrews, Arcola Energy, Arup, Aegis, Abbott Risk Consulting (Arc) and Angel Trains. Transport Scotland is sponsoring the project, which seeks to demonstrate the reuse of existing rolling stock and the new supply opportunities and skills creation for the emerg-ing green economy, while reducing emissions from the Scottish rail sector. The hydrogen train is expected to have its inaugural run on the line in March 2022. Professor John Irvine said, “This is a real demonstration of clean energy — it’s showing how we can make an energy transition. “I’m particularly proud that we are developing a hydrogen train using an old vehicle rather than creating a brand-new hydrogen train. “As the intention is to use this train on lines in Scotland where there is no possibility of electrification, lines that are not heavily used, we might never regenerate the energy we put into building a new hydrogen train, whereas by converting trains to hydrogen we are showing vision and saving energy.” In circumstances where it is inefficient to electrify rail routes, hydrogen is being suggested as a replacement fuel. It could also replace diesel as a fuel for vehicles. The University of St Andrews Quaestor and Factor, Derek Watson, said, “It’s good to open the eyes of the world to show that hydrogen is a viable fuel for the future. “We have to help drive society towards a more sustainable future, eliminating or replacing carbon wherever we can, and that is in all aspects of our lives whether that is in transport, in buildings or in what we buy — sustainability is key.” The University of St Andrews has a target to be net zero by 2035. The Scottish Government has set a target date to decarbonise passenger rail transport by 2035. This means the removal of diesel on passenger services. This was part of Transport Scotland’s Rail Decarboni- sation Action Plan, launched in 2020.

In September, at the formal launch of Glasgow Queen Street Station, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Since 2007, we have invested over £9 billion in rail infrastructure, including electrification to enable greener trains to run on those routes. We are committed to continued electrification, and the use of alternative traction technology, if we are to address the challenges facing this planet. Scotland, as a responsible global citizen, will do everything we can to play our part.”

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