A team of engineering students and staff from the University of Birmingham have designed and built the UK’s first hydrogen-powered locomotive. The hybrid vehicle utilizes both a hydrogen fuel cell and lead acid batteries similar to the ones found in cars to propel itself along – and its only emissions are water vapor and heat!
The locomotive, which is a narrow gauge model, has a hydrogen fuel cell which is used both to power the permanent magnet electric motors and to charge the batteries. When the vehicle hits peak power demand the batteries kick in to help cope with accelerating with a heavy load.
The hydrogen fuel cell provides the locomotive with a clean source of energy and offers a considerable extension in range compared to battery-only versions. The cell can carry over 5,000 liters of hydrogen stored in a solid state metal hydride tank at relatively low pressure (typically operating at just 5 bar). It is one of the most advanced hydrogen storage systems developed by the university – the technology is also at work in the university’s hydrogen-powered canal boat, the Ross Barlow.
The hydrogen fuel cell’s capacity allows the locomotive to haul a 400 kg load for 2.7km, which is twice the height of Ben Nevis. In case it needs to go further, two additional tanks can be easily installed.
The prototype was tested at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire as part of a competition led by the Institute of Mechanical Engineering. Team leader, Stephen Kent said: “We are really pleased with the locomotive, particularly as it managed to haul 4000 kg, well over 6 times the specified load.” The locomotive also features regenerative braking which allows the vehicle to capture, store and re-use braking energy. It also boasts an adjustable air suspension and a highly advanced touchscreen remote control that operates over a Wi-Fi link.
Dr Stuart Hillmansen, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering, faculty advisor to the team, said: ‘Our hydrogen-powered locomotive is a clean and efficient example of how hydrogen power could work for future trains on non-electrified routes. We hope that our efforts will encourage the rail industry to take a closer look at this exciting technology.’