Chinese engineers have unveiled the world’s most powerful hydrogen-powered locomotive as the country seeks to decarbonise its freight and passenger rail network.
Developed and assembled by the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) in Datong, Shanxi Province, “Ningdong” is powered by hydrogen energy and can operate non-stop for nearly 190 hours before needing to refuel.
China has an estimated 3 800 locomotives in its fleet that still run on fossil fuels, accounting for more than a third of its entire network. Up to 90% of the existing fossil fuel-powered trains operating in China could be modified to run on hydrogen.
The train is a product of CRRC’s venture with the Ningxia-Ningdong Railway in China’s northern Shanxi Province that aims to convert its existing diesel-powered locomotives into more environmentally friendly hydrogen alternatives.
It sports a monstrous fuel cell that can hold up to 260 kilograms of hydrogen, with a power capacity of 800 kilowatts – four times the size of the German-made Alstrom Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered passenger train, according to the energy website, Hydrogen Insight.
Converting diesel-powered locomotives to hydrogen power is considered more cost-effective than purchasing new hydrogen engines, and has attracted interest from several international transportation firms.
In late 2022, Alstom and Canada’s Loop Energy announced they were funding research programmes dedicated to retro-fitting diesel-electric trains to hydrogen.
Hydrogen-powered locomotives like Ningdong are run by clean, renewable energy, with none of the harmful emissions like carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide of their fossil fuel-burning counterparts, Liang Zhenzhong, head engineer and deputy general manager at CRRC Datong, told state media.
In fact, the only by-products of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are heat and water. Liang said hydrogen trains had operating costs up to 50% lower than their diesel equivalents. One kilogram of hydrogen has roughly the same energy potential as four-and-a-half litres of diesel, according to research by Alstom.
Ningdong forms part of President Xi Jinping’s ambitious goal of promoting the development of new energy vehicles like hydrogen locomotives, hoping to have up to 50 000 hydrogen vehicles on Chinese roads by 2025.
As part of the National Development and Reform Commission plan released in March 2022, China intends to construct hydrogen fuelling stations nationwide and ramp up the country’s domestic hydrogen production to at least 200 000 tons by 2035.