Toyota Motor Europe to supply fuel cell modules for train project

On the right track to develop a Bi-modal Fuel Cell Train

Almost half of the railway lines in the European Union are electrified and enable local emission-free rail transport. On the remaining sections of the lines, diesel powered trains are used. Within the EU project FCH2RAIL (Fuel Cell Hybrid Power Pack for Rail Applications), a consortium with partners from Belgium, Germany, Spain and Portugal is developing and testing a new zero-emission train prototype. At the heart of the project there is a hybrid, bi-modal drive system that combines the electrical power supply from the overhead line with a “fuel cell hybrid power pack” (consisting of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries) that works independent of the overhead line.

The project FCH2RAIL was already launched in January and the reference routes and operating scenarios for the prototype have now been defined as a first result.

Overhead line and hybrid system: Bi-modal, emission-free travelling

Where energy is available from overhead lines, the train takes the energy from them. When there are no overhead lines, the energy will come from the fuel cell and battery system, called the ‘Fuel Cell Hybrid Power Pack’.

"We want to show that this type of bi-mode train is a competitive and environmentally friendly alternative to the diesel train", said project leader and researcher Holger Dittus from the German Aerospace Center - Institute of Vehicle Concepts (DLR).

Today, many railway lines are being equipped with overhead lines in Europe, an expensive and long-term project that depends on the local geographical conditions. An alternative are purely battery-powered trains, but they have a limited range of operation (30 to 70 km), depending on the route profile and outside temperatures. Current diesel trains have lower performance in terms of top speed and acceleration compared to vehicles powered by electric motors from overhead lines.

"Our bi-modal hybrid fuel cell battery system combines the advantages of both technologies: Energy coming from the overhead lines or from on board. This lets us make rail transport even more sustainable and energy-efficient", says Sergio Gascon, Technical Project Manager at Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), summarizing the main goal of the project.

The energy supply system is to be designed in such a way that power and range can be expanded based on a modular principle: The number of fuel cell and battery modules influences the drive power; the number of hydrogen tanks determines the operation range on non-electrified lines. Therefore, the drive unit can be designed for use in both passenger and freight transport.

With a budget of 14 MM euros, the project aims to develop, demonstrate and approve such a system within the next four years. The project is funded with 10 MM euros by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking (FCH2JU).

Designing and controlling the system, energy management and homologation

Until the first trial runs, the international project team still has a number of technological challenges to solve: For the design, fuel cell and battery modules must be combined and controlled in such a way that the system meets all requirements and can be implemented cost-effectively at the same time. In addition, it should be possible to use the waste heat from the fuel cell modules in an efficient way to heat and air-condition the train. The air conditioning manufacturer Faiveley / Stemmann Technik (STT) and DLR are investigating innovative solutions for reducing the energy demand for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) as part of the project.

The project also examines norms and standards in the fields of hydrogen and rail transport and attempts to bring the two together assuring safe interaction between the hydrogen technology and overhead catenary at all times. Based on this, the project team is developing proposals for responsible authorities to make approvals across EU of such trains easier in the near future.