The UK’s first fully operating hydrogen (H2) train was unveiled by the Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education (BCRRE) last week.

Named ‘Hydrogen Hero’, the train has been completely designed and engineered in the UK and is currently a scaled-down version using technology that is ready to be brought to market with BCRRE industry partners in the coming months.

Transport currently accounts for around a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and the UK Government has committed to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 80%, against 1990 levels, by 2050.

In February 2018, Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Transport, called for diesel-only trains to be phased out as part of a new vision to decarbonise the railway by 2040. H2 powered trains are expected to form a key part of the UK’s plan to tackle climate change and to improve air quality.

UK to scrap diesel trains by 2040 in favour of hydrogen

H2 fuel cell technology is an effective alternative to diesel engines; potentially entirely carbon neutral in operation, they are more environmentally friendly while offering similar performance. H2 trains make electricity using a fuel cell which reacts H2 with the oxygen (O2) in the air creating electricity and water. The process has a higher efficiency than the combustion processes found in diesel engines.

The development of this demonstration model brings the UK one step closer to seeing fully functioning H2 trains on the tracks within four years and helping to significantly reduce the railway’s carbon omissions.

Dr. Stuart Hillmansen, Senior Lecturer in Railway Energy and Power Systems at BCRRE, said, “H2 fuel cell technology is ready for the railway. With our ‘Hydrogen Hero’ train, we want to demonstrate that H2 is viable right now for use on the UK railway as a realistic alternative to diesel. At BCRRE we are actively innovating and developing practical, market-ready technologies that can transform the UK railway.”

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Source: Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education