The SNCF wants to put an end to its old diesel locomotives which each year burn millions of liters of diesel, and it has set 2035 as the horizon for the total decarbonization of its trains across the entire network of its rail network.
Two French manufacturers have just announced an alliance that will help the incumbent rail operator to meet its schedule.
The railway manufacturer Alstom and the energy company Engie announced on Wednesday that they had signed a partnership to develop powerful freight locomotives powered by a fuel cell running on hydrogen. They explained in their press release how they intend to share the tasks in this project which aims to place “hydrogen at the heart of rail decarbonization”.
Engie and Alstom committed to the decarbonization of heavy mobility
On the one hand, the railway manufacturer Alstom, pioneer in the field of hydrogen-powered rolling stock, will take care of the design of a hydrogen motorization solution based on a high-power fuel cell system (this involves pulling 2,000-tonne trains) in order to power the electric locomotives. With a few hundred kilometers of autonomy, these fuel cells will have the task of replacing diesel in the non-electrified parts of the rail network, which represents 15% to 20% of a journey according to studies by Alstom and his partners.
On the other side, the energy company Engie will manufacture renewable hydrogen to power these powerful locomotives. Renewable or “green” hydrogen, i.e. produced without the use of fossil fuels. Engie plans to develop by 2030 a renewable hydrogen production capacity of 4 GW, have 700 km of dedicated hydrogen networks and 1 TWh of storage capacity, not to mention the management ofmore than 100 charging stations.
Previous collaboration in the Coradia iLint regional train
The two manufacturers had already collaborated in March 2020 on the success of a test in the Netherlands with a Coradia iLint light regional passenger train, during which renewable hydrogen was used to recharge the train.
Alstom already markets hydrogen passenger trains: 41 trains have been ordered by two German Länder and experiments have taken place in Austria, the Netherlands (with Engie therefore), Poland, Sweden and France.
In France, the order that SNCF placed with Alstom in April 2021 concerned regional “dual-mode” trains, light, capable of running under catenaries in electric traction and in hydrogen mode, without polluting. These 12 TER called Régiolis H2 and whose entry into service is scheduled for 2025 (with first tests at the end of 2023, beginning of 2024) have a range of up to 600 km on non-electrified lines.
“The idea is to optimize the use of existing electric locomotives, and somewhere to kill diesel, avoiding the consumption of millions of liters per year for freight,” Raphaël Bernardelli, vice-president, told AFP. from Alstom. “There is a desire to double the share of rail: this must be accompanied by total decarbonization”, he underlined.
Now deploying in the decarbonization of heavy mobility, Alstom is aiming to put its future powerful fuel cell locomotives into service by the end of 2025, while the SNCF promises the end of diesel for 2035, and the Deutsche Bahn for 2040. North American and Australian operators are also working on similar freight solutions.
Engie, for its part, is counting on this new application to strengthen the place of hydrogen in heavy transport, which it is developing for example with trucks in the mining sector.
“We have put in place significant renewable capacities. Tomorrow, demand will be driven by usage in a more significant and correlated way,” underlined Sébastien Arbola, Deputy Managing Director of Engie in charge of thermal production, hydrogen and energy supply activities.
The alliance also targets major European rail freight countries
The development of this solution will mainly be entrusted to French sites, such as Belfort, Tarbes or Aix-en-Provence. Alstom is one of the 15 manufacturers pre-selected by the French government to benefit from public aid under the European PIIEC programs to support breakthrough technologies (such as hydrogen) and research.
But the French market is not the only one targeted by the Alstom-Engie alliance: because, if their partnership aims to provide a zero-emission solution in the transport of goods and passengers which makes it possible to meet climate, environmental and public health, including on secondary lines and non-electrified branch lines, their target market extends to all the major European rail freight countries, the two groups state in their press release.