China has what it claims is the world’s only hydrogen-powered train for urban environments.
The eco-friendly carriages rolled off the line on the 18th of January 2023 in the country’s southwestern city of Chengdu, Sichuan province, with an estimated top speed of 160 kilometres per hour, according to a recent report by Chinese state media.
The product of a joint venture between local transport player, Chengdu Rail Transit, and the CRRC Changchun Railway Company, the train has a battery range of 600 kilometres and produces no harmful emissions during operation.
The concept of a hydrogen-based rail vehicle or ‘hydrail’ has been explored by engineers for several decades. The term ‘hydrail’ was coined in 2004 by Stan Thompson, a planner for the American telecommunications firm, AT&T.
Hydrail vehicles are almost always hybrid in design and are propelled by a combination of stored energy devices, such as batteries or capacitors, and hydrogen fuel. Engineers have found that pairing the two power sources improves efficiency and saves space.
Analysts have speculated that a hydrail traveling between two destinations at an average speed of 160 kilometres per hour will prevent an estimated 10 000 tons of carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere per annum.
Hydrogen has many qualities that make it an attractive fuel source for transportation. While burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and petrol create dangerous gases like carbon monoxide, the only byproduct left behind after processing hydrogen fuel is water vapor.
Also, it’s one of the most abundant elements on Earth and, unlike oil, has a near-inexhaustible supply.
The Chinese-developed urban hydrail, like most hydrail vehicles, is powered by a hydrogen-supplemented super-capacitor.
In addition, the joint venture claim their design creates very little noise pollution, making it ideal for intracity use.
The hydrail is part of China’s ambitious target set by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the National Energy Administration (NEA) in March 2022.
China aims to have 50 000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on its roads and rails by 2025. To support this, it has committed to producing 100 000 to 200 000 tons of the environmentally friendly fuel from renewable sources every year.
While not nearly as developed as the electric vehicle industry, hydrogen fuel cell technology is starting to gain traction in the world’s second-largest economy.
Chinese truck giant, FAW Jiefang, delivered 300 hydrogen-powered vehicles to its businesses in Beijing, Shanxi and Shanghai, according to the science website, Interesting Engineering.