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The ecological train: everyone does it

(version en français)

Is this the Innotrans effect? In recent months, hybrid Emu/Dmu have made a sudden appearance on the market. All the builders build their solution to attract the new market : the lines without catenaries. We are going to peruse the latest innovations on this theme.

In Germany, for example, non-electrified lines are still numerous at the local level. But this network, the Lander want to keep it, and even reactivate forgotten lines. As electrifcations are expensive, diesel Dmu was up to now the only solution available. Problem: these Dmu pollute and sometimes travel 1/3 of their journey under electrified main lines. So there is a serious waste of resources, especially since diesel is increasingly banned from the automobile. The rail had to follow the movement.

Honor to Alstom. The French firm is engaged in the hybrid railcar since last year, not in France but in Germany. The market seems indeed more promising on this side of the Rhine, given the political conditions that allow the Lander to choose their own rail operator.

The H3 Hybrid locomotive project was initiated in August 2013, and the first locomotive was unveiled at InnoTrans 2014 in Berlin. The five locomotives are now undergoing an eight-year test at DB’s sites in Würzburg and Nuremberg, Franconia. The project has been funded with €600,000 ($653,560 approximately) from the State of Bavaria. The locomotives are being manufactured at Alstom’s Stendal site in Scaxony-Anhalt, Germany. One of the variant consist of a H3 Battery 600kW electric locomotive. But it was not so disruptive yet …

Alstom left its mark with his iLint Coradia railcar. This machine is much more a disruptive technology because its engine would be driven by hydrogen, which is new. The Coradia iLint is a version of the Coradia Lint 54, but powered here by a hydrogen fuel cell. Announced at InnoTrans 2016, the new model will be the world’s first production hydrogen-powered trainset. The Coradia iLint will be able to reach 140 kilometres per hour (87 mph) and travel 600–800 kilometres (370–500 mi) on a full tank of hydrogen. The first Coradia iLint is expected to enter service on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony, Germany. It will be assembled at Alstom’s Salzgitter plant. It began rolling tests at 80km/h in March 2017. On July 11, the EBA (the German Railway Authority) gave its operating license. With this railcar, Alstom makes a double shot by addressing both the problem of non-electrified lines, while eliminating a large part of the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Some criticism are, however, being made about the methods of making hydrogen (1). With its order of 14 Coradia iLint in December 2017, the Land of Lower Saxony also became aware of the problem of hydrogen production, and invested an additional 8.4 million euros to manufacture hydrogen no longer from fossil fuels but by electrolysis and by means of wind energy. We are thus moving towards a « zero emission » train.

Competition reacts

There are no doubt that these developments of Alstom should prompted a reaction of the competitors, Siemens and Bombardier. It’s done now … Just before Innotrans – it is obviously not a coincidence – Siemens and the ÖBB presented on September 10 their concept of Desiro ML Cityjet Eco. The train is part of the Siemens Desiro range. Unlike Alstom, the concept is of a more traditional technology using batteries. Battery operation can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50 percent compared to diesels. The battery system located on the middle car of the converted trainset is comprised of three battery containers, two DC/DC controllers, a battery cooler and other electronic components. The system uses lithium-titanate batteries (LTO technology). Compared with conventional lithium-ion batteries, these modified batteries allow significantly higher charging currents for fast charging.

The pilot project will be conducted with a train taken from the series of Siemens Desiro ML trains currently being produced for ÖBB. The train’s design enables it to accommodate additional roof loads. As a result, the usual industry-wide production and delivery time of up to 36 months for a new train can be reduced to less than half. Following extensive testing of the train, it is expected to first be used in passenger service in the second half of 2019.

As an echo, Bombardier replied two days later. On September 12, the Canadian presented his ‘BEmu’ Electro-Hybrid Talent 3. One more ! With four Bombardier Mitrac batteries, this train can travel about 40 kilometers on a diesel line. The next generation of battery-operated trains will be able to cover distances of up to 100 kilometres on non-electrified railways. In 2019, Deutsche Bahn (DB) will start a twelve-month trial run with passengers with the current prototype in the Alb-Lake Constance region.

The development of the battery-operated train is subsidised by the German federal government in the framework of an innovation program for electromobility with 4 million euros. The project partners include the DB Regio subsidiary DB ZugBus Regionalverkehr Alb-Bodensee (regional transport for the Lake Constance region), Nahverkehrsgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg (Baden-Wuerttemberg Regional Transport Company) and the Nationale Organisation Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellentechnologie (National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology) and the Technical University of Berlin.

This demonstrates the importance of public authorities with funding research and partnership with universities and research centers. That is how that Europe can maintain its industries and remain at the forefront of technology and… ecology. Innotrans seems to be a key marker to get out of new projects. The next exhibition will take place in 2020. We will then have the opportunity to talk about the first results of these new concepts.

(1) Is hydrogen a good source of energy ?

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Frédéric de Kemmeter
Analyste ferroviaire & mobilité

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