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University of Birmingham, UK, To Host 2012 Hydrail Conference

By guest blogger Stan Thompson

The University of Birmingham, UK, will host the next International Hydrail Conference there in the summer of 2012 in cooperation with Appalachian State University. Dates and details will be available in late September, 2011, on the hydrail web site of the Energy Center at “App State” in Boone, North Carolina: http://www.hydrail.org.

The University of Birmingham and the University of Pisa, Italy, have become the first to offer Ph.D. degrees addressing hydrogen railway technology. Candidates from Birmingham and Pisa made invited presentations last summer in Istanbul, where the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technology (UNIDO-ICHET) hosted the Sixth International Hydrail Conference (http://www.hydrail.org/summary6.php).

The international character of the hydrail transition is illustrated by the fact that both the Birmingham and Pisa doctoral candidates are from different countries than their schools. Birmingham’s first candidate, Andreas Hoffrichter, BSc, Bankkaufmann, (http://www.hydrail.org/docs/6_hoffrichter.pdf) is from Germany. The first hydrail-related doctoral candidate at Pisa is India’s Tarun Huria (http://www.hydrail.org/docs/6_huria.pdf), on sabbatical from Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at Jamalpur, where he chaired the locomotive and rolling stock design faculty.

Given the high and growing price of copper and labor, external power for most railroads that don’t already have it seems a doubtful proposition at best. Vulnerability to climate variation plus resource competition with foodstuffs production do not augur well for biofuel availability in the amounts that rail systems require. Cost, geopolitical considerations and environmental concerns (both climate and pollution) make staying with oil less and less practicable.

Unless some truly remarkable breakthrough in electrochemistry makes batteries more capacious by orders of magnitude, hydrogen seems the only plausible way to deliver the cleanest energy sources for railway use.

Hopefully other universities will follow and expand the trail that Birmingham and Pisa are blazing.

About Stan Thompson

For 33 years I worked as an engineer, planner and futurist for what is now AT&T in Charlotte and Atlanta. Though I have no engineering degree, I'm a Life Member of the IEEE. Other memberships are the World Affairs Council, the local chapter of the National Association of Business Economics and the American Institute of Archaeology. (I dig international business, so to speak.)

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