Toyota is supporting a project investigating the possibility of using hydrogen as a zero-emission fuel for rail travel. Through its membership of the European FCH2RAIL consortium, it is supplying its new hydrogen fuel cell module for use in a prototype train.
Toyota is working with consortium partners from Belgium, Germany, Spain and Portugal to develop the prototype. At the heart of the project is a hybrid, bi-modal drive system that combines the electrical power supply from an overhead line with a fuel cell hybrid power pack (consisting of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries) that works independently of the overhead line. If successful, it could prove a valuable alternative to the diesel-powered trains still in service across Europe.
The FCH2RAIL project was launched in January 2021 and has already defined operating scenarios and the reference routes for the prototype.
Overhead line and hybrid system: bi-modal, emission-free travelling
The prototype train will draw electricity from overhead lines where they are present, but on stretches of line with no power supply, the energy will come from the on-board fuel cell and battery system – the fuel cell hybrid power pack.
Today, many European railway lines are created with overhead lines, which are very expensive, long-term projects that have to address local geographical conditions. An alternative is to introduce purely battery-powered trains, but these have a limited range (30 to 70 kilometres), depending on the route profile and outside temperatures. Current diesel trains have lower performance in terms of top speed and acceleration compared to those using electric motors powered from overhead lines.
Functional tests with converted commuter train
To understand the full lifecycle environmental impact of such a system and to evaluate its performance under real-world conditions, the project includes plans to convert a CIVIA electric commuter train (manufactured by the Spanish manufacturer CAF and provided by Renfe, the Spanish state railway operator) with an integrated fuel cell hybrid power pack.
One of the central components of the on-board energy system is the packaged fuel cell system module from Toyota Motor Europe (TME), while the batteries and power converters will be provided by CAF. Initial functional tests and trial runs for approval will take place on Spanish and Portuguese tracks with the support of the infrastructure managers Administrador de Infrastructuras Ferroviarias (ADIF) and Infraestruturas de Portugal (IP). The Spanish hydrogen research centre Centro National de Hidrogeno (CNH2) has been entrusted with the construction of a hydrogen fuelling station to refuel the prototype and in FCHPP testing before train integration.
Designing and controlling the system, energy management and homologation
The international project team still has a number of technological challenges to solve before the first trial runs can take place: in design terms, the fuel cell and battery modules must be combined and controlled in such a way that the system meets all requirements and can be implemented cost-effectively. In addition, it should be possible to use the waste heat from the fuel cell modules in an efficient way to heat and air-condition the train. As part of the project, the air conditioning manufacturer Faiveley/Stemmann Technik (STT) and DLR are investigating innovative solutions to reduce the energy demand for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.