Image: University of Birmingham

Britain’s first mainline-approved hydrogen train has been operating in Glasgow as part of the COP26 Climate Change Summit’s demonstration of its role in accelerating the green industrial revolution.

The HydroFLEX train is now ready for the next stage of its journey providing zero-emission passenger transport services. It was developed by engineers at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) in collaboration with rolling stock owner and asset manager Porterbrook.

BCRRE experts were involved at every stage of the design and development of hydrogen technology and its application to railways. Since HydroFLEX’s conception in 2018, the project has advanced rapidly, from the September 2018 collaboration agreement to full mainline test runs in September 2020.

In just three years, the team created and demonstrated the comprehensive design of a fully functional hybrid hydrogen fuel cell and battery system on board the train (with funding from Innovate UK). Additionally, they were able to create the architecture of the power control system, which optimizes the operation of the fuel cell and energy storage system. Recently, the team has worked to change the design of the hydrogen powerpack in order to incorporate it properly into the train system.

Alex Burrows, Director of Enterprise & Innovation at BCRRE, said: “Hydrogen and battery technology, as demonstrated on our HydroFLEX train, is key to supporting the UK’s plans for a Green Industrial Revolution and delivering on our Net Zero commitments.  This project has showcased our capabilities at the University and our technology is now proven, demonstrating that we can rapidly decarbonise the railways.  We are thrilled to be able to share this progress at the United Nations COP26 Climate Change Summit.”

Additionally, the HydroFLEX project is essential to the West Midlands Region’s ambition to developing a zero-emission transportation system. On Thursday 11 November, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, will outline the region’s ambitious green transport plans at a COP26 Roadshow event.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The West Midlands region was at the heart of the first steam and coal industrial revolution. In paying back that debt we are making a big commitment to green and low carbon technologies and transport, making the West Midlands ‘Home of the Green Industrial Revolution’.”

HydroFLEX also benefits from the knowledge of a diverse group of industry partners. This collaborative success story is now well on its way to meeting the Government’s rail decarbonisation targets.

Beyond HydroFLEX, BCRRE researchers are researching more areas where their hydrogen fuel expertise might be applied to enable low-carbon global transportation. The team is currently working on a project that will see them build new traction systems for sustainable railways in low-income countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Clive Roberts, Head of the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham, said: “With HydroFLEX we have been able to demonstrate the massive potential for hydrogen-fuelled green rail transport – but the story doesn’t end with the commercial success of HydroFLEX. We are already looking, for example, at technologies – including hydrogen – that can deliver sustainable rail travel in low-income countries.”

“As diesel is phased out across transport networks globally, we need to find new possibilities that will be cost-effective and enable low-income countries to develop and adopt sustainable technologies.”

Nedim Husomanovic

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