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COP26: Hydrogen key to decarbonizing rail transport to meet net-zero goals: Alstom

Highlights

Hydrogen 'true diesel replacement' for trains

Alstom launches new UK hydrogen fleet

Hydrogen will be key to decarbonizing rail transport to meet mid-century climate goals, train manufacturer Alstom said at the UN Climate Change Conference Nov. 10.

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The company also signed an agreement with British train owner and financier Eversholt Rail for a new hydrogen train fleet in the UK.

"It is important that we start sooner rather than later to decarbonize UK Rail if we are to meet the 2050 net-zero target," Eversholt Rail CEO Mary Kenny said in a statement. "Hydrogen propulsion will play an important role, and this project with Alstom will demonstrate how the private sector can work together to make a difference."

Alstom Product Manager James O'Sullivan said at the COP26 summit in Glasgow that hydrogen trains would be critical to decarbonizing the rail fleet, as electrifying the entire rail network in time to meet mid-century decarbonization goals would not be possible.

Rail lines currently served by diesel trains, particularly on rural routes, would be best decarbonized by switching to hydrogen, O'Sullivan said.

Hydrogen is the "true diesel replacement" for rail transport, he said.

There are around 6,000 diesel trains in operation in Europe at present, while only around 50% of the European rail network was electrified, he said.

Battery-electric trains were a feasible solution for short distance routes, he added.

Alstom Head of Business Development Mike Muldoon said hydrogen-fueled trains could plug the gap between battery-electric trains and full electrification of lines, and such trains were already operating in Germany.

Alstom and Eversholt on Nov. 10 signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a fleet of 10 hydrogen trains in the UK, with an aim of signing final contracts in early 2022.

Under the agreement, Alstom is to design, build, commission and support the fleet of three-car trains.

The company also has orders for two full fleets in Germany, with 41 hydrogen fuel cell trains coming into service in 2022.

Alstom has been running hydrogen-fueled trains in large-scale trials across Europe since 2018.

Muldoon added that sourcing hydrogen would be challenging in the early stages of developing a hydrogen economy, but said that train stations and rail networks could act as hubs for building demand across other transport sectors, and would provide a steady offtake for producers.

A single hydrogen train could take hundreds of kilograms of hydrogen a day, Muldoon said, around 10 times the volume a bus might consume. So a single fleet would provide in the region of multiple tons per day of hydrogen demand, he added.

Alstom is aiming to fuel its hydrogen trains with renewable hydrogen, produced from electrolysis of water powered by wind and solar.

Production costs for renewable hydrogen are expected to fall dramatically this decade, underpinned by falling renewable power prices and power purchase agreements.

UK solar PPA offers in Q2 2021 were GBP46.59/MWh ($62.87/MWh), while wind PPA offers were GBP48.09/MWh, according to the Zeigo platform. By contrast, S&P Global Platts assessed day-ahead baseload UK power prices at GBP154.25/MWh Nov. 10, up from GBP68.00/MWh at the start of the year.