Introducing North America’s first zero-emission hydrogen train for passenger service.
This past June, North America’s first hydrogen train for passengers was launched in Quebec. The train is designed to show how electricity is stored as hydrogen and how it can replace diesel fuel on railways, especially where installing electrified rails or overhead wires would be challenging.
The hydrogen train uses about 50 kilograms of hydrogen per day which would replace 500 litres of diesel from the same journey. A train typically emits around 2.67 tonnes of CO2 for every 500 litres of diesel burned.
The hydrogen train only emits water vapour that is generated when it takes hydrogen gas from its tank. The gas is combined with oxygen in the air, which is then combined into a fuel cell to generate electricity. The hydrogen gas is produced using an electrolyzer which uses electricity generated from Hydro-Quebec, which is 94% hydrogenated and 5% wind.
While a diesel-powered truck carries the hydrogen to the train station for refuelling, this could soon be replaced by a dedicated electric vehicle truck making the entire supply chain zero emission.
The same model of the train called the Coradia iLint, has previously carried passengers in eight European countries. The company, Alstom, was looking for somewhere in North America to test its train and discovered that the Train de Charlevoix route was ideal because it already used European technology.
The Quebec government is investing $3 million as part of the province’s plan for a green economy by 2030. The goal is that by this time, green hydrogen and bioenergy will have the potential to reduce the consumption of petroleum products by nearly one billion litres per year in Quebec. This could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the province by four megatonnes of carbon dioxide.
The train runs from Montmorency Falls in Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul and can carry up to 120 people in two rail cars. The journey is 90 km (about two and a half hours long) and will run until the end of the summer. The goal is for the train to run the full route from Quebec City to La Malbaie.
The train will not return to that area next summer as it is a demonstration unit that will travel and be tested in other cities. But seeing its success in the Charlevoix area, the railway might invest in buying its own hydrogen train.
This is not the first time hydrogen-powered trains have been seen in Canada. In 2021, the Southern Railway of British Columbia partnered with Loop Energy and Hydrogen in Motion to convert a diesel-electric switcher locomotive to hydrogen-electric. CP Rail in Alberta is testing a hydrogen train engine to move cargo in the Calgary area and plans to convert three diesel locomotives.
Canada still has a few challenges before hydrogen trains become a reality nationwide, such as rail infrastructure and improving hydrogen storage. Most hydrogen around the country is still being produced by methane, but thankfully, the Canada-Germany Green Hydrogen Partnership is working to develop and deploy green hydrogen technologies in Canada and abroad. The partnership was announced in August 2023 ins response to the war in Ukraine and includes commitments from both countries to invest in research and development, to share best practices, and to work together to promote the use of green hydrogen around the world.
Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. It is a clean and emissions-free fuel that can be used for a variety of purposes, including hydrogen trains.
There is potential for this form of sustainable travel to grow for both cargo and passenger, especially as we’ve seen in Quebec that it can work. We’ll have to see where this hydrogen train travels next year.