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Green Hydrogen Set to Revolutionize Rail Transport

25 Jun 2024

Times up for Diesel Locomotives!

The spotlight has often been on electric cars, but a more sustainable future could hinge on electrifying mass transit systems, especially railways. Diesel locomotives currently dominate the field, but the rapid momentum of the green hydrogen industry could soon change that, driving diesel fuel off the rails.

Rail Decarbonization: A Complex Challenge

While electric buses have made significant inroads, trains pose a more complex challenge. Passenger lines often rely on fully electrified systems with overhead wires, but electrifying additional routes demands extensive new power infrastructure, including transmission lines and substations. For freight and passenger trains, the power requirements are substantial, making the transition more complicated than for buses.

The Green Hydrogen Solution

Replacing diesel with sustainable liquid fuels is a viable alternative. Union Pacific, for instance, has moved from a biofuel blend to testing 100% biofuel. However, while biofuels can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, they don't eliminate local air pollution. Hydrogen fuel cells offer a zero-emission solution, producing only water as a byproduct. Yet, most hydrogen today is derived from fossil fuels, posing a different challenge.

Green hydrogen, produced from water using renewable energy in electrolysis systems, is emerging as the ideal solution. This method avoids the fossil fuel footprint, aligning with global decarbonization goals.

Advancing Green Hydrogen for Rail

Most diesel locomotives in the US are partially electrified, presenting an opportunity for retrofitting with full electrification using batteries, fuel cells, or both. California is already trialing retrofitted fuel cell switcher locomotives to reduce emissions in rail freight yards. New purpose-built fuel cell passenger trainsets from the Swiss firm Stadler are also being introduced.

However, the transition hinges on the availability of affordable green hydrogen. The US Department of Energy aims to reduce green hydrogen costs to $1.00 per kilogram from the current $5.00, significantly higher than the $2.00 range for conventional hydrogen. The gap is closing rapidly due to the falling costs of wind and solar power and improvements in electrolyser technology.

Green Hydrogen and Fast Fueling

Green hydrogen's potential extends beyond cost considerations. One significant advantage over battery power is the refueling time. Hydrogen fuel cells can be refueled in minutes, a crucial factor for heavy-duty applications like trains.

French firm Lhyfe recently completed a green hydrogen production plant in Germany, supporting Deutsche Bahn's climate-neutral train initiatives. The plant, part of Germany's H2goesRail program in partnership with Siemens Mobility, aims to create a seamless green hydrogen ecosystem, including mobile refueling stations that can refuel hydrogen trains as quickly as diesel ones.

Looking Forward

H2GoesRail deploys Siemens’s new Mireo plus H hydrogen fuel cell trainsets, incorporating battery packs for added efficiency. This hybrid approach optimizes resource use, marking a significant step towards decarbonizing rail transport.

Green hydrogen isn't limited to transportation; it's also critical for various industrial processes, including steelmaking and fertilizer production. States like Louisiana are making strategic moves to attract more hydrogen production, steering clear of fossil energy dependencies.


As the green hydrogen industry gathers momentum, the future of rail transport looks set to be powered by sustainable energy. This transition promises not only to decarbonize railways but also to pave the way for broader industrial applications, contributing significantly to global sustainability goals.

Stay tuned for more updates as green hydrogen continues to reshape the energy landscape, driving us towards a cleaner, greener future.

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