World's first zero-emission hydrogen train to begin operations in Germany

The world's first hydrogen-powered emission-free train, the Coradia iLint from Alstom, is set to go into service in Germany at the end of 2017.

Story highlights

  • Germany will put the world's first hydrogen-powered zero-emission train into service in 2017
  • The non-electric network trains are powered using a hydrogen fuel cell and only emit steam and water

(CNN)The world's first hydrogen powered, emission-free train is set to go into service in Germany in 2017 -- a ground-breaking innovation that could signal the phasing out of heavily polluting, diesel-powered trains.

The first "hydrail", or hydrogen-powered train, will begin transporting passengers on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony, in northern Germany, in December 2017, German newspaper Die Welt reported.
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Although the first train in operation will only run a short, 60-mile (96-kilometer) route, four German states have signed an agreement with Alstom, the French company that builds the trains, for the purchase of up to 60 additional locomotives, if they are judged a success.
    "Alstom is proud to launch a breakthrough innovation in the field of clean transportation," Alstom chairman and CEO, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, said in a statement.
    "It shows our ability to work in close collaboration with our customers and develop a train in only two years."
    Visitors check out the Coradia iLint train after it was unveiled at Innotrans, the railway industry's largest trade fair, in Berlin on September 20, 2016.

    Quiet revolution

    The new, silent train, called the Coradia iLint, was unveiled by Alstom at a railway industry trade fair in Berlin earlier this year, and only emits steam and condensed water.
    Although not suitable for electric railway lines, it's designed to provide a clean alternative to the large number of heavily polluting diesel trains that run on non-electric lines throughout Europe.
    Germany alone has more than 4,000 diesel-powered train cars, according to Alstom, and about 20% of all of Europe's current rail traffic is hauled by diesel locomotives according to the European Union.
    The train uses the same equipment as a diesel train but runs on an entirely new technology that uses hydrogen -- a waste product of the chemical industry -- as the fuel source.
    Energy to power the train is generated by large fuel cells that sits on top of the train. This cell combines hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity, which is then stored in batteries.
    Each two-car train-set requires a fuel cell and a 207 pound (94kg) tank of hydrogen to supply it, while the oxygen is obtained from the local air. The train can complete a 500 mile (800 kilometer) journey on a full tank of hydrogen, which is enough for one day according to Alstom, and carries up to 300 passengers.
    Although the 87 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour) speed the train reaches is far below that of other European trains, such as the German Inter-city Express and French TGV, it is well suited to the quieter and shorter stretches of the European rail network that haven't yet been converted to electricity.
    Initial tests on the two pre-production trains that were unveiled at the trade show will be completed by the end of the year, according to Alstom.
    The two units will then undergo further testing throughout 2017, prior to their expected approval for operation by Germany's Federal Railway Office at the end of that year.