Plans to make the railways as zero-carbon as possible over the next 15 years have sparked a lot of interest in alternative fuel technologies.
Powering trains using hydrogen is one possible solution, particularly for non-electrified branch lines and for ‘last mile’ applications. Several demonstrators are either already running or are planned in the UK. Hydrogen-powered trains have even operated passengers services in Germany.
Now Rolls-Royce is looking to enter the market. Its Power Systems Division in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is developing a 250 kW demonstrator to test future zero-carbon energy systems.
Andreas Schell, CEO of Rolls-Royce Power Systems, explained: “We firmly believe that fuel cell technology is set to make a huge contribution to a successful energy turnaround. That’s why Rolls-Royce sees it as its mission to assume a pioneering role in fuel cell applications.
“Fuel cells shall form an elementary part of our product portfolio for sustainable solutions.”
Hydrogen fuel-cells have very high efficiency levels when generating electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. When run on pure hydrogen, they produce no harmful emissions – only water vapor – as well as being low-noise, low-maintenance, and vibration-free.
Dr Peter Riegger, vice president of Rolls-Royce PowerLab, added: “The greatest benefit is when they are run on regeneratively produced hydrogen, because this enables polluting and climate-damaging gas emissions to be fully eliminated.
“This gives fuel cells a huge potential to become a major technology for decarbonizing propulsion and electrical power supply systems.”
An experimental test facility has been set up at Friedrichshafen. Designed partly at Rolls-Royce’s plant in Ruhstorf (Bavaria), the test cell has two separate compartments for fuel cells and batteries, plus a host of power electronics. The control system has been fully refined, cooling and air conditioning are mounted on the roof, and a rack system enables simple maintenance, allowing individual system modules to be replaced as required.
Fuel cell modules have been put through their paces and Rolls-Royce engineers are more than happy with the results: “Power flexing characteristics and performance are excellent, and as expected there are no vibrations or no loud noises,” Dr Riegger explained. The next step is to connect all four demonstration modules together in the container and hook up the batteries and power circuit. Commissioning is slated for the second half of 2021.
The fuel-cell modules will be used for test purpose, and for demonstrations to interested parties.