The SNCF wants to do away with its old diesel locomotives that burn millions of liters of diesel each year, and has set 2035 as the horizon for the total decarbonisation of its trains throughout its rail network.
Two French manufacturers have just announced an alliance that will help the traditional rail operator to meet its schedule.
Railway manufacturer Alstom and energy company Engie announced on Wednesday that they had signed a partnership to develop powerful freight locomotives powered by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. They explained in their press release how they intend to share the tasks in this project, which aims to to place “hydrogen at the heart of railway decarbonisation”.
Engie and Alstom are committed to the decarbonisation of heavy mobility
On the one hand, the railway manufacturer Alstom, pioneer in the field of hydrogen powered rolling stock, will be in charge of the design of a hydrogen motorization solution based on a high-power fuel cell system (it is about pulling 2,000-ton trains) to power the electric locomotives. With a few hundred kilometers of autonomy, these fuel cells will have the task of replacing diesel in the non-electrified parts of the rail network, which represents 15% to 20% of a trip according to studies by Alstom and its partners. .
On the other hand, the energy company Engie will manufacture renewable hydrogen to drive these powerful locomotives. Renewable or “green” hydrogen, that is, produced without the use of fossil fuels. engie plans develop by 2030 a renewable hydrogen production capacity of 4 GW, have 700 km of dedicated hydrogen networks and 1 TWh of storage capacity, without forgetting the management ofmore than 100 charging stations.
Previous collaboration in the Coradia iLint regional train
The two manufacturers had already collaborated in March 2020 on the success of a trial in the Netherlands with a Coradia iLint light regional passenger train, during which renewable hydrogen was used to recharge the train.
Alstom already markets hydrogen passenger trains: two German Länder have ordered 41 trains and experiments have been carried out in Austria, the Netherlands (with Engie, therefore), Poland, Sweden and France.
In France, the order that SNCF placed with Alstom in April 2021 concerned regional “bimodal” light trains, capable of running under catenaries in electric traction and in hydrogen mode, without polluting. These 12 TERs called Régiolis H2 and whose entry into service is scheduled for 2025 (with the first tests at the end of 2023, beginning of 2024) have a range of up to 600 km on non-electrified lines.
“The idea is to optimize the use of existing electric locomotives, and somewhere to kill diesel, avoiding the consumption of millions of liters per year for the transport of goods,” Raphaël Bernardelli, vice president of Alstom, told AFP. “There is a desire to double the railway’s share: this must be accompanied by full decarbonization,” he stressed.
Now deploying in the decarbonisation of heavy mobility, Alstom aims to bring its future powerful fuel cell locomotives into service by the end of 2025, while SNCF promises the end of diesel by 2035 and Deutsche Bahn by 2040. North American and Australian carriers are also working on similar charging solutions.
Engie, for its part, has this new application to strengthen the place of hydrogen in heavy transport, which it is developing, for example, with trucks in the mining sector.
“We have implemented significant renewable capacities. Tomorrow, demand will be driven by usage in a more significant and correlated way.” underlined Sébastien Arbola, Deputy General Manager of Engie in charge of the activities of thermal production, hydrogen and energy supply.
The alliance also targets the main European rail freight transport countries.
The development of this solution will be entrusted mainly to French sites, such as Belfort, Tarbes or Aix-en-Provence. Alstom is one of the 15 manufacturers shortlisted by the French government to benefit from public aid under the European PIIEC programs to support cutting-edge technologies (such as hydrogen) and research.
But the French market is not the only objective of the Alstom-Engie alliance: because, if their association aims to provide a zero-emission solution in the transport of goods and passengers that allows compliance with the climate, the environment and health including branch lines and non-electrified branch lines, its target market extends to all major European rail freight transport countries, the two groups say in their press release.