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Students Build a Hydrogen-Fuel-Cell-Powered Locomotive

• Keith Barry via


Engineering students at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. have successfully built and demonstrated a hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered locomotive.

In testing at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire, the hydrogen-powered narrow-gauge train managed to carry a load that weighed more than 8,800 pounds. ”The hydrogen system worked quietly, efficiently and reliably throughout two days of testing,” said project leader Stephen Kent. “The same could not be said for the mechanical, electrical and control systems, all of which required a degree of fettling.”

Though it’s the first hydrogen-powered locomotive to be built in the U.K., so-called “hydrail” projects have been underway elsewhere since 2002, when the first hydrogen-powered locomotive prototype debuted in a mine in Val d’Or, Quebec. Since then, projects in Japan, China, and Denmark have attempted to fuel trains with hydrogen, and there’s even an annual hydrail conference sponsored by Appalachian State University.

The appeal of a hydrogen-powered locomotive is especially great for rural lines, where diesel is the current fuel of choice. “It is highly unlikely they will ever be electrified, and at some point diesel is going to become too scarce and too expensive to carry on using,” Kent said. “Hydrogen appears to be an ideal alternative.”

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