Scotland eyes up hydrogen powered trains on their path to decarbonisation

Michael Matheson MSP – Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (orange jacket) with Dr. Ben Todd, CEO of Arcola Energy (hi-viz waistcoat) and a 314 Class electric train at the Scotrail Yoker Depot in Yoker, Glasgow. The train has been decommissioned and will be taken to Bo’ness where it will be converted to run on hydrogen. Photo credit: Arcola Energy.

By Anders Lorenzen

Ahead of this year’s COP26, Scotland is stepping up their decarbonisation efforts, one initiative being looked at is to power trains via hydrogen in places where  it is hard to electrify them. 

To achieve this, a partnership between Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland, the Hydrogen Accelerator, based at the University of St Andrews and Arcola Energy has been set up. This includes a consortium between Arcola Energy and industry-leaders in hydrogen fuel cell integration, rail engineering and functional safety. 

Arcola Energy, a hydrogen fuel cell integration specialist company, will lead the consortium and the project is supported by rail engineering and safety experts Arup and Abbott Risk Consulting to form an integrated delivery team, with AEGIS providing regulatory third-party verification.

Hydrogen powered solution in just 10 months

Arcola Energy will develop the technology platform for the train’s new ‘powertrain’ from its planned new Scottish base. The company’s existing A-Drive hydrogen fuel cell platform will be extended to meet rail safety and compliance requirements. They say this will enable the project to significantly reduce development time and cost to deliver a complete hydrogen powered solution in just 10 months.

Based at the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, the consortium will convert a Class 314 car passenger train, made available by ScotRail, into a deployment-ready and certified platform for hydrogen powered train development. Following demonstrations, the train will serve as a development platform for Scottish technology providers and academics as Scottish Enterprise and the Hydrogen Accelerator explore opportunities for Scotland’s hydrogen-enabled low carbon strategy with the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway providing engineering facilities and support for testing and public demonstrations.

A hydrogen roadmap

Richard Kemp-Harper Arcola Energy’s strategy director explained to A greener life, a greener world that the converted Class 314 train conversion is for demonstration only. One of the outputs from the project will be a “roadmap” highlighting the relevant routes, which trains could be appropriate, and what the timeline for conversion of a fleet could be. He added that in the first instance this will be to outline what rail routes hydrogen could serve a purpose on. He said they would be looking at shorter rural routes where electrification is difficult andadded that they simultaneously need to consider the current infrastructure and how charging stations could be integrated.

Dr Ben Todd, CEO of Arcola Energy said about the project: “Hydrogen traction power offers a safe, reliable and zero-carbon alternative for Scotland’s rail network. The hydrogen train project is an excellent opportunity for industry leaders in hydrogen, rail engineering and safety to collaborate with Scottish technology providers to develop a deployment ready solution. We are delighted to support Scotland’s strategy to make passenger railways emission free by 2035.”

Arup will use the learnings from the project to develop a roadmap to roll out hydrogen trains to support the decarbonisation of Scotland’s network. Explaining this, Clare Lavelle, Scotland Energy Business Lead, Arup said: “With Scotland’s focus on achieving net-zero emissions by 2035 and rail playing a leading role in this, hydrogen offers a safe, reliable and zero carbon alternative to other forms of rail propulsion. This project is not only a crucial step in helping us understand the practical challenges of using hydrogen traction power on our railways, but an example of the type of investment Scotland needs to take advantage of the opportunity to build a secure, flexible, cost effective and zero carbon energy network.”

Mark McCool, Managing Director at AEGIS says that their experience in a series of railway decarbonisation projects means they will ensure the safe integration of hydrogen fuel cells into the train.

A game changer for Scotland’s rail stock

Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson added: “This project has the potential to be a game changer for the future of Scotland’s rail rolling stock. Our Rail decarbonisation Action Plan sets out to make our passenger railways emissions free by 2035, but to maximise our climate change ambitions, there is also a requirement to look at what we do with retired stock. If we can bring those back into use in a carbon neutral way, there are huge climate gains to be made.”

Kemp-Harper added that this project aligns with recent announcements from the Scottish Government on plans for development of green hydrogen from renewables and the development of a local industry using and supporting this. “Part of the rationale for converting a train fleet to hydrogen is that the trains provide a large baseload demand for hydrogen to justify investment in electrolysis”, he said. He added that green hydrogen would play a key role in this project: “for this demonstrator, even though it’s only a small quantity needed, we aim to source hydrogen from existing green production, almost all of the current hydrogen refuellers in the UK produce hydrogen by electrolysis, some directly from renewables,” he stated.

This project will coincide with the UK hosting the UN climate summit COP26 later this year and the prototype hydrogen train will be demonstrated during the much anticipated summit in Glasgow from November 1st-12th.

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