Why railways around the world are ditching diesel for hydrogen

Source: The post is based on the article Why railways around the world are ditching diesel for hydrogenpublished in TOI on 7th February 2023.

What is the News?

Indian Railways has planned to operate 35 hydrogen-powered trains on various heritage and hilly routes in India under its ‘Hydrogen for Heritage’ Project.

What is Hydrogen for Heritage Project?

Under this project, hydrogen-powered trains will be known as Vande Metro. 

It will initially run on historic, narrow-gauge routes including the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the Kalka Shimla Railway, the Matheran Hill Railway, the Kangra Valley, the Bilmora Waghai, and the Marwar-Devgarh Madriya, which will make travel more environmentally friendly.

The first hydrogen train designed and manufactured locally will be ready by December 2023 on the Kalka-Shimla historic circuit.

What are Hydrogen Trains?

Hydrogen trains are those that use hydrogen fuel cells rather than traditional diesel engines. The hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen, which is then used to power the train’s motors.

Why Hydrogen Trains?

In India, which has the world’s third-largest railway network, 37% of the trains are pulled by diesel locomotives. That’s roughly 5,000 trains a day. Indian Railways used 2.3 billion litres of diesel to haul trains in FY 2019-20 – almost 6. 5 million litres a day.

While many of these diesel locomotives could be replaced with conventional electric locomotives in the years ahead, some routes might not have enough traffic to justify building and maintaining catenary systems or the terrain might not be suitable for this infrastructure.

Hydrogen fuelled locomotives are clean, efficient and powerful like electric motors but do not require a network of poles and overhead wires.

What are the advantages of Hydrogen Trains?

Green hydrogen, which is made with renewable energy, costs far more than diesel at present, and hydrogen locomotives are about 30% costlier than diesel locomotives. In India, the cost of converting each train to run on hydrogen will be about Rs 80 crore.

Although hydrogen is costly, 1kg of hydrogen replaces 4.5 litres of diesel. And the price of green hydrogen is expected to fall sharply by 2030. Also, the service and maintenance costs of hydrogen trains are likely to be lower.

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