Forty Alstom hydrail trainsets for Germany !

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

Since you’re reading this, you already know how indebted the hydrogen community is to Kevin—the originator of this blog—for his role in keeping us up to date with the biggest news about the littlest atom.

Today, though, I’m more grateful than ever; Kevin just tipped me off about an article in Railway Gazette that made my day. Its title is “Fuel cells to power regional trainsets”.

The gist of the article is that European rail vehicle builder Alstom Transport plans to deploy forty hydrail trains in Germany by the end of this decade—with two online as early as 2018!  To the best of my knowledge, these trainsets (multi-unit, self-propelled passenger consists) will be the first fleet of intercity hydrail vehicles in the world. Deploying forty trains as the first “batch” indicates that German national commitment to hydrail is hardly tentative.

As one of the founders of the annual International Hydrail Conferences, the fact that Alstom Transport is the fleet builder is particularly gratifying to me;  over eight years ago in Herning, Denmark, Alstom described a hydrail trainset in their presentation to the second-ever International Hydrail Conference .

About that same time, two Japanese hydrail trainsets were also designed—one by a team led by Dr. Keiichiro Kondo at the national government’s Railway Transport Research Institute and the other by East Japan Railways. However, neither of Japan’s hydrail trainsets seem to have proceeded beyond the demonstration stage. When the nuclear tragedy at Fukushima cut wayside electric power to the Japanese rail network, a fleet of self-powered hydrail trainsets might have provided some emergency relief.

Also as a Hydrail Conference founder, I find it delightful (though not at all surprising) that Germany will be the site of the first operating fleet. This year German hydrail pioneer Dr. Holger Busche was the main organizer of the Ninth International Hydrail Conference, held in the City of Neumünster in the Land (State) of Schleswig-Holstein. Dr. Busche worked in close cooperation with Herr Detlef Matthiessen MdL, S-H’s Speaker of Parliament for Energy Policy and Technology.

Better than any other country (except, perhaps, Iceland), Germany understands that hydrogen technology is the world’s only energy network (or “soft grid”) combining both the transmission and the storage of energy in a single system. For over ten years Dr. Busche has pursued the integration of zero-carbon North German wind power with railway traction. The partial funding of Alstom’s hydrail trainsets by the German Federal Government shows that Dr. Busche has been both correct and far ahead of his time.

The Charlotte Campus of the University of North Carolina has been invited to host next year’s Tenth International Hydrail Conference, perhaps at the State’s Transportation Museum. The Museum is a sprawling, historic, former steam locomotive maintenance facility located in Spencer, NC.

Hopefully, someone from Alstom can be on hand in Spencer to reprise and update their prescient 2006 presentation from the Denmark hydrail conference!












Glasgow Half Full in Hydrogen Production

Researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland (still part of the UK after the vote) have discovered a way to produce hydrogen 30 times faster than current renewable methods. This method allows hydrogen to be produced using less electricity, at atmospheric pressure and do so using renewable energy such as wind or solar.

Professor Lee Cronin from the School of Chemistry at Glasgow University said, “The process uses a liquid that allows the hydrogen to be locked up in a liquid-based inorganic fuel. By using a liquid sponge known as a redox mediator that can soak up electrons and acid we’ve been able to create a system where hydrogen can be produced in a separate chamber without any additional energy input after the electrolysis of water takes place.

“The link between the rate of water oxidation and hydrogen production has been overcome, allowing hydrogen to be released from the water 30 times faster than the leading PEME process on a per-milligram-of-catalyst basis.”

The current state-of-the-art method of producing hydrogen using renewable methods relies upon proton exchange membrane electrolysers or PEMEs. If the redox mediator method can be scaled up to commercial production levels, then hydrogen production from sun and wind will be advanced in many locations around the world.

Two New Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicles Spied in California

Two new Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicles have been spied in different parts of California this week. The first report was by Mike Magrath, a Features Editor at

Mr. Magrath tweeted two spy shots he took of the FCV in Southern California as he was needing help in identifying the vehicle. Soon after Twitter lit up with answers that this was the newest iteration of fuel cell vehicle by Toyota. This sedan had a black body and the windows were not tinted.

A couple of days later in the San Francisco Bay area, another new Toyota fuel cell vehicle was spotted. The silver Toyota FCV with heavily tinted windows was spotted by USA Today writer, Marco della Cava.

Mr. della Cava noted that the windows were blacked out not the keep the sun out but to keep people from looking inside and noticing the interior of Toyota’s super secret hydrogen vehicle.

The vehicle was parked near the AT&T Park baseball stadium. One notable feature of the vehicle is that the driver is given the option to store the waste water inside of a storage tank inside the vehicle.

As Captain Obvious may say, this has been a good week for FCV spy shots in California.


United Hydrail Nations

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

This update follows much farther behind the wonderfully successful 9th International Hydrail Conference in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (June 2014) than I had intended.  The reason is one I can’t regret: the cast of international players on the hydrail stage has grown so large, and there are so many  intertwining plots, that I can hardly keep up with chronicling the process!

First in order is congratulations and thanks to the organizers of the Ninth International Conference held 16-18 June, 2014, in Neumünster, Germany.  “9IHC” was the first Hydrail Conference to be conducted in a language other than English. It was in German…but the hosts provided real-time translation. The organizers were Herr Detlef Matthiessen MdL, Speaker for Energy Policy and Technology in the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag (Parliament) and Dr. Holger Busche, President-Kulturlokschuppen Neumünster e.V.  We also owe special thanks to Dr. Urte Domaschk, who made the necessary travel and logistics run smoothly.

A most important “first” by Herr Hens Baake of Vossloh Locomotives, Gmbh, of Kiel, Germany, must be acknowledged.  He became the first presenter actually to bring a locomotive to the Conference!  Some of us even got to ride the brand new DE 18 locomotive.  The D series is the first standard production locomotive in the world specifically designed for a hydrail configuration upfit. The Vossloh loco that Herr Baake brought to Neumünster was a diesel electric. In North America, where less than 1% of rail lines are electrified, we never think about “how do we go beyond the end of the wire?” But in Europe, where most lines are electric; where many diesels are old and smoky; and where CO2 emissions are a grave concern, the advent of a new, clean, green (literally!) catenary-free locomotive is big news.

Vossloh’s D18 can be configured as a double-diesel electric; a diesel-battery hybrid; or a pure battery electric locomotive. But, as Herr Baake’s presentation explains (, it is designed for the hydrogen economy transition as well. Vossloh calls it “Future Proof.”

Absent from Neumünster, and sorely missed, was Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter, the hydrail Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, UK.  A native of Germany, Andreas would have been a star presenter but he had a prior speaking commitment in New Zealand and missed 9IHC.  Andreas was the key organizer of 7IHC, hosted by the University of Birmingham in 2012.

Two of the newest players on the hydrail stage are graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte:  Ben Gorman and Edward “Matt” Washing. They represent the first wave of an international hydrail design collaboration between UNC Charlotte and the Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham, UK.

The eventual objective of the collaboration is a joint UK-US advanced railway engineering education school, including (but going far beyond) hydrail design. Matt and Ben were in Birmingham recently as the first American team members of U. Birmingham’s hydrail locomotive design team. In 2014, for the third year, Birmingham participated in the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway Challenge. The Challenge pits universities against each other to design breakthrough locomotive innovations. Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter led the team with Dr. Stuart Hillmansen, head of U. Birmingham’s traction engineering studies. The Challenge locomotives run on park or “live steaamer” gauge (10.25″) tracks.

Gorman and Washing went to the UK with the help of a grant from the Mooresville Morning Rotary Club, organized by former Mooresville Mayor Bill Thunberg (a hydrail speaker in Neumünster this summer).  Mooresville Rotary has undertaken two Hydrail Education Projects as part of Rotary International’s focus on community economic development. One project is regional (NC,SC,VA,TN,GA);  the other is international.

The purpose of both Hydrail Education Projects is—by making available hydrail education program presentations to local Rotary Clubs—informing business and government leaders that a far less costly option than external track electrification is becoming available.  Scarce fiscal resources needn’t become stranded investments in very expensive legacy technologies, such as trolleys, which can require as much as ten million dollars per mile extra for unnecessary track electrification.

A second Rotary Hydrail Education Project will make available presenters from the nine previous International Hydrail Conferences for programs at Rotary Clubs in their respective countries. So far, presenters have come from Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the USA. Prospects for increased world-wide hydrail awareness are excellent.

One highlight of Neumünster’s Hydrail Conference was Herbert Wancura’s visionary presentation on the potential for adapting hydrail to high speed rail applications:  “The Far Horizon – High Power Hydrail”  ( When Herbert was in the USA lecturing at UNC Charlotte and visiting the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, our talk turned to another Hydrail Conference presenter—Russian Railways’ Dmitry Grigorovich, Principal Researcher at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for Railway Transportation in Moscow. Herbert and I speculated about connecting Russian Railways’ Hydrogen Power Car (—built to power heavy track-laying machinery in Siberian tunnels—to an electric passenger locomotive. As we prepared the Ninth Hydrail Conference, I asked Herbert to develop the idea and to present it at Neumünster. He had already been thinking along those same lines. With his always thorough engineering approach, Herbert did so. The result will, I predict, prove to have been a landmark in the evolution of railway technology in the twenty-first century.

From the first International Hydrail Conference in 2005, Bill Thunberg, Jason W. Hoyle of Appalachian State University’s Energy Center, and I have been confident that by facilitating the international exchange of ideas we can make hydrail—an inevitable green paradigm shift—available to society a few years, or even decades, sooner.  Looking back, especially at the last three International Hydrail Conferences, I’m more confident that ever that we’ve come far in that direction.


Gold Nanoparticles Help Produce 74 Times More Hydrogen

Researchers in South Korea have succeeded in producing 74 times more hydrogen from water using sunlight and gold nanoparticles.

Business Korea says, “According to the research team, gold nanoparticles are capable of producing hydrogen from water by absorbing visible rays at a low energy level and creating thermoelectrons. However, the production efficiency and practicality of this process is extremely low, as most thermoelectrons break down very quickly, only lasting 1/10 quadrillionth of a second.

“However, the research team was able to radically enhance the lifespan of electrons created from gold nanoparticle catalysts by developing ternary system nanostructures in which two more nanoparticles are attached to the gold particle. Through this method, 74 times more hydrogen was produced than when gold nanoparticles were used as a catalyst alone.”

To the naysayers this will not be big news. According to Stan Thompson, the solacaust deniers “…believe that the American economy is better served by staying the carbon course than by investing in renewable energy technologies.” However to others of us, this hydrogen production method may just be the breakthrough for which we’ve been waiting.


Thermoplastic Hydrogen Storage Tanks for FCVs in Development

A company called Element Materials Technology is developing a high pressure thermoplastic hydrogen storage tank to be used inside of fuel cell vehicles. The resulting storage vessel is expected to be strong, light-weight and leak-free.

According to Element, “During this project Element Hitchin performed high-pressure permeation tests using hydrogen for the roto-molded liner samples, mechanical tests (quasi-static and fatigue) on all materials, accelerated ageing tests and rapid gas decompression (RGD) tests to assess the effects of rapid depressurization on the liner materials.

“The low-cost, high-pressure (350-700 bar) gaseous hydrogen storage vessel was developed in collaboration with EPL Composite Solutions, Delta Motorsport, Crompton Mouldings, Celanese (formerly Ticona), CTG-UTC Aerospace Systems and Oxford Brookes University. It is intended for the automotive market, with improved fatigue performance and is fully recyclable at end of life.”

The materials used to build hydrogen tanks directly affect both the range of the vehicle, and the cost, too. So, if these thermoplastic tanks live up to expectations, future hydrogen car owners may experience more miles and fewer dollars paid for the vehicles.


VW Bearish on FCVs Outside of Japan

One may think that a German automaker that has hydrogen fueling stations popping up all around the hillsides of Germany may be bullish on fuel cell vehicles at least in that country. But, this is not the case with Volkswagen.

In fact, VW is predicting that fuel cell vehicles will only be big in Japan.

According to Volkswagen Group Japan President Shigeru Shoji, “’It may fly within Japan, but not globally,’ said Shoji, 51. Fuel cells could become another example of the ‘Galapagos syndrome’ that plagues Japanese companies for making products that are only popular at home, he said.”

This is back-pedaling from a couple of years ago when Volkswagen was building hydrogen fuel cell prototypes right and left such as the HyMotion, Tiguan, Passat Lingyu and the Space Up Blue.

In the next 1 – 3 years commercial hydrogen FCVs are expected to rollout in Japan, Germany and California. If VW isn’t onboard with hydrogen vehicles by then, they may just miss the boat.


Hyundai FCV Travels 1481 Miles in 24 Hours

Drivers Marius Bornstein and Arnt-Gøran Hartvig (pictured left to right) hopped inside of a Hyundai ix35 Tucson Fuel Cell and drove it 1481 miles in 24 hours – try to do that, battery electric vehicle fans.

The entire trip took place inside of Germany between Hamburg and capital city, Berlin.

According to the email I received, “The 24 hour drive included seven refuelings, four at Shell Sachsendamm in Berlin and three at Vattenfall HafenCity in Hamburg. The average time used on each pit stop was 10 minutes.

“Prior to this trip Bornstein and Hartvig made an unprecedented 1404 mile drive from Oslo to Monte Carlo in April 2012, and a world record 435 mile drive on one tank of fuel through Scandinavia in June 2014. The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell has been the vehicle on all occasions.”

Many thanks to Marius Bornstein for forwarding me this info.

Electrolyte Hydrogen Fuel Cell e-Bike to Debut

Next week German e-bike maker Electrolyte will be showcasing their first hydrogen fuel cell bicycle. According to the manufacturer this e-bike can travel 300 miles before refueling. states, “German electric bike maker Electrolyte is to debut what it says is the world’s first cartridge hydrogen fuel cell electric bike at Eurobike next week.

“Having formed a partnership with one of the companies at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell production, Electrolyte have come up with the Vorradler S3 FC, which the firm claims is capable of 300 power assisted miles.”

Now, I’ve talked about hydrogen fuel cell ebikes many times before. But what makes this hydrogen ebike special is the range which is on par with many gasoline powered cars today.


Stanford + AAA Battery + Water = Hydrogen

Researchers at Stanford University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using an AAA battery to split water. The device uses electrodes composed of nickel and iron, which are both abundant and cheap.

According to Stanford, “Now scientists at Stanford University have developed a low-cost, emissions-free device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to produce hydrogen by water electrolysis.  The battery sends an electric current through two electrodes that split liquid water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Unlike other water splitters that use precious-metal catalysts, the electrodes in the Stanford device are made of inexpensive and abundant nickel and iron …

“…The discovery was made by Stanford graduate student Ming Gong, co-lead author of the study. ‘Ming discovered a nickel-metal/nickel-oxide structure that turns out to be more active than pure nickel metal or pure nickel oxide alone,’ Dai said.  ‘This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don’t fully understand the science behind it.’”

It’s true that sometimes happy accidents in science aren’t fully understood at first. Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming in 1928 discovered penicillin by happy accident. If this nickel and iron device can be scaled up to industrial levels, producing cheap and abundant hydrogen, then this will go down in history as a turning point in the emerging global hydrogen economy.


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