Germany launches world’s first railway powered by hydrogen

Germany has inaugurated the world’s first railway line powered entirely by hydrogen. 

Hydrogen trains have been projected to help decarbonize the rail sector by phasing out climate-warming diesel, which still powers 20% of trips within Germany. The fleet of 14 trains, provided by French industrial giant Alstom to the German state of Lower Saxony, replaces diesel locomotives on the 60 miles of track connecting the cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde, and Buxtehude. 

How does hydrogen power the trains? 

A “zero emission” mode of transport, the trains mix hydrogen on board with oxygen present in the ambient air, by way of a fuel cell installed in the roof that produces the electricity needed to operate the train. The new fleet, which cost $93m, will prevent 4,400 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere each year. “We are very proud to put this technology into operation together with our strong partners as a world premiere”, Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said in a statement. 

According to Alexandre Charpentier, a rail expert at Roland Berger, about 15-20% of the regional European rail market could run on hydrogen by 2035. Trains are, however, not the only machinery in need of hydrogen fuel. Road vehicles, aircraft, as well as heavy industries such as steel and chemicals, are all looking towards hydrogen to reduce carbon emissions. Ironically, hydrogen is currently “95% derived from the transformation of ‘fossil fuels’, almost half of which come from natural gas”, according to the French research institute IFP, which specializes in energy issues. 

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