BMVI study examines the economic, legal and technical prerequisites for the deployment of fuel cell railcars in rail transportation

Berlin 1. July 2016 – Around 50 percent of the German rail network is not electrified. This makes the deployment of electric railcars using hydrogen-run fuel cells an interesting and promising potential alternative. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI – Bundesministeriums für Verkehr und Digitale Infrastruktur) and coordinated by the National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW), a consortium comprising Ernst & Young GmbH, Ludwig-Bölkow Systemtechnik GmbH, IFOK GmbH, SIGNON Deutschland GmbH, TÜV SÜD Rail GmbH, law firm Becker Büttner Held and further partners examined the deployment of fuel cell railcars in Germany.

On the occasion of the presentation of the study results, Transport Ministry State Secretary Rainer Bomba stated that: “Electric mobility with hydrogen and fuel cells is a very promising future technology, which is particularly well suited for deployment in the transport sector. Besides road transport, this also applies to rail transportation where electric railcars can be a low emission alternative to diesel operations. We want to support this development. For this reason we have made rail transportation a focus of funding in our National Innovation Programme.”

Emission free rail travel – hydrogen is ready for use in daily operations
As part of the study, the operative demands on fuel cell drives in rail operations were examined. This encompassed aspects including refuelling, operational scheduling, maintenance and liability issues. The result: in terms of scheduling and the related refuelling or maintenance requirements for the applicable routes in Germany, no operational limitations through the hydrogen technology could be identified. Planned is for refuelling to take place each day or every second day in the depot. A further benefit of the fuel cell-based drive technology is the conversion of the hydrogen into kinetic energy. This occurs emission free and is more energy efficient than conventional diesel drive technology. On routes with many stops as well as varying elevation profiles, combined fuel cell and battery drive technology can be implemented to best exploit the greatest potential.

25 percent more economical than diesel, recommended operational structures
The cost-effectiveness analysis conducted as part of the study showed that in terms of running infrastructure costs (operating expenses, fuel costs, fees), a cost benefit of up to 25 percent can be achieved in the medium term due to the efficiency benefits of the fuel cell drive as well as lower maintenance costs compared to the conventional diesel infrastructure. A recommendation of the study is a model in which the authorities provide small or medium-sized rail companies with one or more such vehicles for lease. The development of suitable developmental models should transpire taking the local hydrogen infrastructure into account along with other regional framework conditions. For this reason, it is recommended that project-specific feasibility studies be conducted for individual cases.