Fuel Cells

Expert Voices

Germany's hydrogen-powered train advancing low-carbon transport

The Coradia iLint train, a CO2-emission-free regional train developed by French transport giant Alstom, is on display
The Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered train on display at Innotrans, the railway industry's largest trade fair, in Berlin, on September 20, 2016. Photo: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

In September, Germany started operating the world's first hydrogen train, the Coradia iLint, which is powered by hydrogen fuel cells stored on top of its carriages. Like a conventional electric train, the Coradia iLint produces no direct air pollution, but it can operate without access to the electric grid.

Why it matters: Hydrogen-powered trains like the Coradia iLint could be built on un-electrified lines in areas where diesel engines are still used, which would greatly reduce harmful emissions typical of combustion technologies. If those trains use hydrogen fuel produced from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, they could become an almost entirely carbon-free mode of transport.

Expert Voices

Fuel-cell tech, infrastructure on the rise with nationwide investment

 Linda Meleo Councillor for Mobility of Rome driving a hydrogen car in Campidoglio on December 9, 2017, in Rome, Italy.
Councillor for Mobility of Rome Linda Meleo driving a fuel-cell car on December 9, 2017, in Rome, Italy. Photo: Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images

In the past decade, costs of fuel cells have fallen by 60% and costs of electrolyzers — a crucial component in hydrogen-fuel production — by 80%, according to a report released last month by the Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technology Office (FCTO). The report affirms that, despite significant hurdles, hydrogen and fuel cells will play a growing role in the decade to come.

Why it matters: The potential for fuel cells and hydrogen energy includes increasing the efficiency of national power generation, providing low-carbon energy sources for light- and heavy-duty transportation, and reducing the carbon intensity of industrial facilities such as refineries and steel mills. These are functions that are difficult to decarbonize with only electric-based renewables (e.g., wind and solar) and together account for nearly 80% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.