Trials of a prototype hydrogen fuel cell powered train designed by engineering students and staff at the University of Birmingham were successful, and may help lead the way for further support from the rail industry for hydrogen locomotives.
"Our hydrogen powered locomotive is a clean and efficient example of how hydrogen power could work for future trains on non-electrified routes. We hope that our efforts will encourage the rail industry to take a closer look at this exciting technology." - Dr Stuart Hillmansen, University of Birmingham’s School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering
The prototype is built on a narrow gauge rail car, and the trials were held at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire at the IMechE Railway Challenge. The train managed to carry a load weighing more than 8,800 pounds, and according to Wired, project leader Stephen Kent said, "The hydrogen system worked quietly, efficiently and reliably throughout two days of testing."
Powering the train is a hybrid system, which uses a fuel cell in conjunction with lead acid batteries. The fuel cell powers the electric motors and charges the batteries, and the batteries help to meet the peak power demands - such as when accelerating under load. According to the University of Birmingham, the prototype also features a regenerative braking system and is operated by a touchscreen Wi-Fi remote control.
In a piece in The Engineer, the team stressed the fact that while it may be difficult to install a system like this powerful enough for high speed passenger trains, it may make sense for applications such as trams or branch lines, which have lower power needs. They believe that the prototype hybrid train concept, which uses a metal-hydride storage tank and hydrogen fuel cell working in tandem with batteries, is a very viable model for future development.