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Engineering students build U.K.'s first hydrogen-powered locomotive

Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:06am

Engineering students and staff at the University of Birmingham have designed and built a prototype hydrogen-powered locomotive, the first of its kind to operate in the U.K.

This narrow gauge locomotive is a hybrid design, combining a hydrogen fuel cell and lead acid batteries similar to the ones used in cars. The fuel cell is used both to power the permanent magnet electric motors and to charge the batteries, with the batteries helping to meet the peak power demands when accelerating under load.

Hydrogen provides a clean source of energy and it offers a considerable extension in range in comparison to battery only operation. Over 5,000 L of hydrogen are stored in a solid-state metal hydride tank at relatively low pressure, with the system typically operating at just 5 bar. This was achieved by using one of the ten advanced hydrogen storage units successfully employed on the University's hydrogen-powered canal boat, the Ross Barlow.

This amount of hydrogen would enable the locomotive to haul a 400-kg load up over 2,700 m, twice the height of Ben Nevis, and two additional tanks can be easily fitted to further extend its range.

The locomotive also features regenerative braking to capture, store, and re-use braking energy, as well as adjustable air suspension and a highly advanced touchscreen remote control that operates over a Wi-Fi link.

The locomotive was tested at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire as part of a competition led by the Institute of Mechanical Engineering. Stephen Kent the team leader, says: "We are really pleased with the locomotive, particularly as it managed to haul 4,000 kg, well over six times the specified load."

Stuart Hillmansen, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Electronic, Electrical, and Computer Engineering, faculty advisor to the team, says: "Our hydrogen-powered locomotive is a clean and efficient example of how hydrogen power could work for future trains on non-electrified routes. We hope that our efforts will encourage the rail industry to take a closer look at this exciting technology."

Source: University of Birmingham

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