Fuel Cell Systems has demonstrated the feasibility of using hydrogen cells to power trains in a study conducted for the UK rail industry.

Performed in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and Hitachi Rail Europe, the six-month study indicated that hydrogen fuel cell technology can be retrofitted to increase the life of current rolling stock.

The study also showed that fuel cells are a clean alternative for the self-powered regional trains in the country.

Funded by Rail Safety and Standards Board ( RSSB) and Network Rail, the project established that using the technology could cut journey times, reduce emissions at the point of use and improve passenger comfort.

To examine the real-life applications, the study included mathematical modelling on known rail routes such as the Norwich to Sheringham. 

"Fuel cell vehicles are cleaner, emitting no exhaust fumes, just a small quantity of pure water."

Fuel Cell Systems managing director Tom Sperrey said: "Compared to traditional engines, fuel cell vehicles are cleaner, emitting no exhaust fumes, just a small quantity of pure water. They are going to be a major contributor in combatting atmospheric pollution.”

It is expected that the hydrogen fuel cell powered trains would complement the future electrification of the railway network, eliminate the interruption in services caused by installation of overhead wires, or modifications to bridges and tunnels during full electrification.

While the technology has already been tested in Japan in 2006, China has introduced a fully operational hydrogen-powered tram in Qingdao in 2015, and Germany is planning to electrify the 1,100km railway network in the Schleswig-Holstein region by 2025.

Image: Use of fuel cells to power UK trains. Photo: courtesy of Fuel Cell Systems.