August 22, 2012- A team of scientists and engineers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom have created the first ever hydrogen-fueled locomotive which was able to carry about 11 people at a distance of 2.7 kilometres. The team was lead by Dr. Stuart Hillmansen, a lecturer in electrical energy systems and the head of traction research group in the school’s electrical, electronic and computer engineering department. The project is part of the railway challenge, which is a competition organized by the institution of mechanical engineers to allow students of UK universities and apprentices working in the railway industry to compete with each other and evaluate miniature locomotive designs of each other.
The locomotive makes use of the kind of hybrid designs used in cars, where hydrogen fuel cells are used to power electrical motors as well as charge batteries. Locomotives require more energy when they are accelerating than when they are just coasting along. The work of the charged batteries is to support the train and keep it going during the acceleration state. The locomotives make use of a 5,000 liters capacity tank that stores hydrogen at low pressure, but there is more room for it to carry two additional tanks to increase its range. A canal boat in the university that runs on hydrogen power carries about 10 tanks.
Dr. Stuart Hillmansen and his team hopes that their creation will be strong enough to inspire railway operators in the uk to consider making use of hydrogen power as an alternative on routes that do not make use of electricity. The challenge with making use of hydrogen is the price of fuel cells, which is the main issue affecting the development of hydrogen economy that could put an end to global warming and the souring oil price. It costs about £5,500 to purchase the power system used in this locomotive.