Decarbonising rail transport with hydrogen-powered trains

29 Jul 2022

Decarbonising rail transport is part of the objectives set by the European Union to reduce climate-changing emissions and promote sustainable mobility.

Currently, train decarbonisation technologies are mainly oriented towards direct electrificationby catenary-fed systems.

This is true in every context:

  • urban and inter-urban transport
  • high speed
  • freight transport

According to the document on the decarbonisation of transport drawn up by MIMS (Ministry of Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility), there are still around 5,000 kilometres of unelectrified secondary lines in Italy.
Most of them are used for regional transport on thinly frequented routes.
These lines represent just under 30% of the national rail network and are currently served by diesel trains.

However, catenary electrificationis not always economically viable.
It is only so if there is a sufficientfrequency of use and a real possibility of increase through policies to support rail use.

When catenary electrification is not a viable solution, the replacement of diesel trains can move towards fuel cell orbatteryelectrification.

In particular, electrification by battery trains is an economically competitive option especially for smaller trainsets.
These are convoys that require limited autonomy of up to 200 kilometres and can have access to the electricity grid at stations, especially at the start and/or end of routes.

In contrast, the competitiveness of hydrogen is greater for large convoys operating over longer distances and with limited access to the electricity grid.


Decarbonising rail transport with hydrogen-powered trains

Trains with hydrogen technology for the decarbonisation of rail transport

The first electric trains powered by hydrogen fuel cells are already a reality in Germany (Brandenburg) and China (Tangshan).
In Italy, a recentdecree by the Minister of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility allocated EUR 300 million to financially support Italian experimentation with hydrogen trains.

This measure implements the provisions of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).
Specifically, the PNRR envisaged the switch to hydrogen of regional or local non-electrified railway lines.

These are lines that currently use trains powered by diesel or other highly polluting fossil fuels.

The resources earmarked cover the entire line:

  • green hydrogen production
  • the transport of raw material
  • green hydrogenstorage
  • the constructionof fueling stations
  • the purchase of trains

In line with national decarbonisation targets for rail transport, the Ferrovie dello Stato Group is already studying the developmentof hydrogen-powered rail mobility, as reported in its Sustainability Report 2021.

However, the hydrogen option also entails some limitations, mainly related to the high cost of fuel cells and the unavailability of cheap green hydrogen.

In addition, to cut distribution and transport costs, hydrogen should be available at stations with a high frequency of use and close to production sites.

We at Simplifhy are dedicated to proposing efficient and sustainable hydrogen solutions that can facilitate the decarbonisation of rail transport.

Discover all our products for hydrogen production, storage and use and contact us for more information.

In Simplifhy we offer strategies and systems for the decarbonisation of industry, through deployment of Hydrogen-based technologies as an alternative fuel.

Our plants are tailoredaccording to the necessities of each specific project.

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