President Putin prods hydrail ahead

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

By fiddling with his oil faucets and natural gas valves, Vladimir Putin may be having the same unintended acceleration effect on Europe’s diesel-to-hydrail transition that John L. Lewis had on the coal-to-diesel transition in the USA during the last century.

Recently I’ve heard two ambassadors from European countries explaining to American audiences what ails the EU’s economy. Putin’s delight in brandishing his oil and gas withholding leverage figures prominently. Casting diplomacy to the winds, one ambassador referred to Putin’s grasp of the situation using a homely metaphor having to do with seizing private body parts.

It’s been observed that Putin sees himself playing chess while President Obama is playing checkers. It won’t have escaped Putin’s notice that the forty Alstom HMU (Hydrail Multiple Unit) trains that Northern Germany will see by 2020 means the permanent loss of some fraction (not even a pawn’s worth) of his rail diesel export revenue.

He may not, however, have tumbled to the probability that those first forty hydrail trains amount to a rolling snowball at the top of an Alp.

Long ago, Europe honed railway electrification to a fine edge. But, ever since the end of steam, the trackage beyond the wire’s end has been diesel. If Europe had no fear of uncertain oil supplies or price manipulation, the high cost of maintaining wayside electrification plant might easliy have tipped the balance of the climate menace in diesel’s favor.

But North Germany’s superabundance of night-time wind turbine energy—readily expressed as hydrogen gas—is a natural hydrail fuel source. That means the track beyond the catenary will not always rely on Putin’s oil.

By making the rail diesel supply more problematic, he’s made the transition to hydrail less so.

When Vossloh, the high-tech German locomotive manufacturer, rolled-out their new D18 model, they made it “Future-Proof” by designing-in a hydrail prime-mover option. By so doing, they made their locomotive potentially Putin-proof as well.

In 2006 Vladimir Putin was in his second term as President and Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov (later head of Russia’s Foreign Inteligence Service) was Prime Minister. That was the year that the Second International Hydrail Conference was convened in Herning, Denmark. “2IHC” was hosted by Danish scientists interested in using Jutland’s ample wind energy to re-power the diesel rail line from Vemb to Thyborøn, making it the world’s first hydrail passenger service.

In that more relaxed time, Ms. Sandy Kaiser, the US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (second only to the Ambassador) gave the opening speech at 2IHC.  Russian Railways sent a delegation of nine—by far the largest delegation ever sent to a Hydrail Conference. The proceedings were conducted in English and simultaneously translated into Russian.

A year later the Danish hydrail vision was eclipsed by the sunset of the world economy (not to say the dawn of the Great Recession). Iceland (founded by Danes) had been planning to achieve the world’s first zero-carbon national energy economy. But their sovereign wealth funds were invested heavily in bundled US mortgages adulterated with sub-prime funnymoney debt. Ironically, in Iceland’s fiscal crisis, Russia made them a big bail-out loan, sourced—one supposes—in oil revenues!

In the 1940’s, when most intercity passenger transportation was still by rail and rail was still powered by coal, United Mine Workers’ President John L. Lewis had the same rather personal grip on America that Putin (per the ambassador’s speech) has on Europe today. In the chaos that resulted, the painful grip was pried loose, in part, by converting some locomotives from coal to oil.

Very likely no hydrail intelligence at all percolated up to the former KGB pro and chess champ back in 2006. But Vladimir Putin might do well to note how the “United States versus John L Lewis” game eventually played out.

Daimler a Dozen in Regard to Hydrogen Cars

On October 3, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, “Daimler, Renault Chiefs Knock Hydrogen Cars” which isn’t exactly true, especially the Daimler part.

Chief executive of Daimler AG Dieter Zetsche, said that he is concerned about the rollout of the hydrogen fueling infrastructure to support the cars and that all of the major car companies with fuel cell vehicles need to be on the same page.

While Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have gotten much attention for their fuel cell vehicles, it’s Daimler AG that has built the largest fleet of hydrogen cars worldwide. The Daimler Mercedes-Benz B-class F-Cell is pictured above.

According to AutoCar India, “Produced under series production conditions, the Mercedes-Benz B-class F-Cell has already been in day-to-day use with customers in the European and American markets since 2010. Today, the total mileage of the Daimler fuel cell fleet, which now numbers more than 300 vehicles, including numerous research vehicles, reaches far more than nine million kilometres, the company has said.

“Based on the current and pending results, Mercedes engineers expect to identify further potential for optimisation, which will flow directly into the development of the next generation of fuel cell electric vehicles. The company has the clear objective to develop a common drive train in cooperation with Ford and Nissan, and to bring competitive fuel cell electric vehicles in large numbers on the streets by 2017.”

So clearly, Dieter Zetsche is not knocking hydrogen cars as his company currently owns the world’s largest fleet. He simply wants a strategic plan that involves all of the fuel cell car companies with the same vision for rolling out the supporting infrastructure in the months and years to come.


$100 for a Chance to Win a Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle


For the cost of a $100 raffle ticket, one lucky Californian will win a Toyota Fuel Cell vehicle which rolls out next summer. As of this writing 12 out of 1000 tickets have been sold and there are 9 days and 12 hours remaining in the raffle.

According to Toyota, “Toyota and the Environmental Media Association (EMA) are offering a historic opportunity to own the company’s first zero-emission hydrogen vehicle when it arrives in California in late 2015. Toyota is the first major auto manufacturer to give away a fuel cell vehicle to an individual owner.

“As the infrastructure to support the vehicle is currently only available in the golden state, prize applicants must be California residents. Residents can purchase opportunities to win at for a cost of $100 per ticket or $500 for six. All monies raised will benefit programs of the EMA, a nonprofit 501(c)3 dedicated to harnessing the power of celebrity and the media to promote sustainable lifestyles.”

The winner will be announced on October 18, 2014 at the Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, CA during the 24th annual EMA Awards.


Honda Smart Hydrogen Fueling Station Unveiled in Japan

At the CEATEC JAPAN 2014 exhibition, a new mockup of a Honda smart hydrogen fueling station has been unveiled. A couple of the key features of this smart hydrogen station (SHS) are that it electrolyzes water to create H2 and it creates high pressure output without using a compressor.

According to Auto Car Pro, “The SHS is equipped with Honda’s original high-pressure water electrolysis system that does not require a compressor. Moreover, the SHS was jointly developed by Honda and Iwatani Corporation as the world’s first hydrogen station where the key components including a high-pressure hydrogen tank and a fueling nozzle are housed in a box-shaped package …

“…Honda will introduce new scenarios where automobiles are getting connected to people’s everyday lives. By combining an FCV, which generates electricity, with Honda’s inverter technologies, the FCV can be turned into a movable and small-sized power plant that provides electricity to the community.”

So, there you have it. With smart phones, smart watches, smart homes and the Internet of Everything coming of age it was only a matter of time until hydrogen fueling stations went smart as well. And, of course the next question we need to ask about the Honda SHS is, “Is there an app for that?”


High Speed Rail Celebration at Hydrail’s Second Home

by Guest Blogger Stan Thompson

For three days this December, the 8th, 9th and 10th, the University of Birmingham UK will host the 50th anniversary celebration of the birth of High Speed Rail. The blessed event occurred in Japan in 1964 with the opening of Tokyo’s Shinkansen line.

Many of the top experts in this most fascinating (and literally “dashing”) element of world railway resurgence will be on hand in Birmingham to present—from Japan and elsewhere.

The motto  of the University of Birmingham is “Circles of Influence”.  In December, one big Circle will enfold Japan’s game-changing innovation.

High Speed Rail is a sort of shining city on the hill of railway resurgence. Hydrail (until Northern Germany’s announcement last week of 40 Alstom hydrail passenger consists by 2020) has been an obscure pilgrim struggling toward the distant summit.

But in Germany this year, Ing. Herbert Warcura of Austria gave the pilgrim a quick lift to the top with his presentation at the Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, Ninth International Hydrail Conference.


A flare for the dramatic may be excused if I observe that Wancura’s 9IHC presentation—linking hydrail to High Speed Rail at last—recalls Michelangelo’s reaching hands on the Sistine Chapel!  Wancura’s speech described the first clear and feasible contact between these two paradigm-shifting railway technologies.

As one whose work has been greatly influenced by UB’s vision and action in the world of hydrail, I can speak with enthusiasm to the appropriateness of the “Circles of Influence” motto.

In 2010 in Istanbul, Turkey, North Carolina’s Sixth International Hydrail Conference had the honor of introducing Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter, who received Birmingham’s first hydrail Ph.D.  The following year, (now Dr.) Hoffrichter organized the Seventh International Hydrail Conference at the Birmingham Campus. As of 7IHC, UB’s “Circles of Influence” have been augmented by the international circles that the International Hydrail Conferences have been creating since 2005.

A year ago I spent a week in Shanghai advocating hydrail as a guest of Southwest Jiaotong University, China’s oldest and most prominent railway engineering school. That happened courtesy of an introduction by UK’s Centre for Railway Research and Education. In Shanghai, I had the honor of introducing Birmingham’s Professor Kevin Kendall, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a featured presenter U. Birmingham’s Hydrail Conference.

This week I had the pleasure of attending a hydrail masters thesis dissertation defense at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte—one of many that should flow from the emerging UNCC/UB affiliation springing from Birmingham’s outreach to North Carolina.

When the University at Charlotte, as part of its Birmingham affiliation, inaugurated a series of advanced railway technology lectures, the first speaker invited was Ing. Herbert Wancura.

It’s not surprising that the celebration of the Shinkansen High Speed Rail Line should have been organized by the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education. Neither is it surprising that UNC-Charlotte also hosted a Shinkansen lecture in April, 2014, as part of the growing hydrail cooperation among universities.

Thanks go to Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter for sharing the news of the Shinkansen anniversary event!

To keep up with hydrail emergence around the world, visit Appalachian State University’s web site, .

Graphene Quantum Dots Better Than Platinum in Fuel Cells

Researchers at Rice University have discovered that graphene quantum dots (GQDs) serve as better catalysts in fuel cells than does platinum. And the quantum nanodots are made from (cover your eyes fossil fuel rejectionists) coal.

According to Rice, “The Rice lab of chemist James Tour created dots known as GQDs from coal last year and have now combined these nanoscale dots with microscopic sheets of graphene, the one-atom-thick form of carbon, to create a hybrid that could greatly cut the cost of generating energy with fuel cells …

“… The lab discovered boiling down a solution of GQDs and graphene oxide sheets (exfoliated from common graphite) combined them into self-assembling nanoscale platelets that could then be treated with nitrogen and boron. The hybrid material combined the advantages of each component: an abundance of edges where chemical reactions take place and excellent conductivity between GQDs provided by the graphene base. The boron and nitrogen collectively add more catalytically active sites to the material than either element would add alone.”

Platinum-free fuel cells are something scientists have been feverishly working on in the last 5 years. Cheaper fuel cells will mean less expensive fuel cell vehicles which in turn will mean higher buyer acceptance.


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.


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