India on the way to hydrogen trains

By December 2023, the nation will have its first hydrogen-powered passenger train, according to Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw.

The 89-kilometer Sonipat-Jind route in Haryana will be traveled by railway. Researchers throughout the nation are buzzing about the announcement.

If there is a passenger train that runs between Chennai and Bengaluru. The 344 km between Bengaluru and Chennai is traveled by passenger train, which consumes 4 l of gasoline every kilometer. Given the efficiency of ordinary locomotive diesel engines, the total fuel used for the journey will therefore be around 1,400 l, translating to the overall energy usage of about 28 GJ. A diesel-powered train will cost INR 0.9 lakh in fuel for one trip.

Green hydrogen, or hydrogen produced from renewable energy, costs roughly INR 492/kg in India, according to research and rating agency ICRA. For a one-way journey from Bengaluru to Chennai, a green hydrogen-based engine with a similar energy output as a diesel engine would require 228 kg of green hydrogen. It will cost INR 1.1 lakh to produce that hydrogen for the passenger train. Fuel cells are utilized to transform the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity instead of diesel engine. Therefore, compared to a diesel engine, the cost of operating a fuel cell-based hydrogen engine will be 27% greater. The cost of fuel cells and related (hydrogen) storage will also increase.

As an illustration, consider the WDP-4 engine, a popular diesel engine for passenger trains in India. The highest output of this engine is 4,000 HP or 2,960 kW. The fuel stack and auxiliary components are the pricey parts of a fuel cell. To power, this engine, 60 fuel cell modules, each with a 50 kW capacity, would be required. As a result, the price of fuel cells for a single passenger train might reach about INR 12 crore.

Despite the fact that switching to hydrogen may not seem financially viable given the high initial cost of hydrogen and fuel cells, there are some specialized markets where the technology has potential. According to an announcement from Indian Railways, a diesel locomotive emits 9.5 g of carbon dioxide per tonne-km. Additionally, diesel engines are known to release non-negligible amounts of NOx, a gas that is known to have a detrimental effect on lung health, as well as fine carbon in the form of soot.

There are areas and situations where hydrogen-fueled trains have the potential to contribute positively, notwithstanding the high expenses at this time. Hydrogen trains can be considered in such terrains where electrifying steep terrains would require significant investment with relatively low returns. Additionally, industrial yards with numerous tracks that see light to moderate traffic can be thought of as prospects for the switch from diesel to hydrogen.

While the Indian Railways should keep concentrating on electrifying important lines, routes that are challenging to electrify due to the topography or the cost of electricity should be investigated for hydrogen-based mobility.

Price reductions for green hydrogen and related technologies are anticipated as technology advances. With rising adoption, distribution networks offering greater accessibility are also anticipated to grow. This will immediately encourage the use of green hydrogen in industries where it is now unaffordable. Therefore, it is conceivable that crucial Indian Railways routes will be powered by hydrogen in the future.