What is Hydrail?
Hydrail is a zero-emission rail system where trains on tracks are powered using hydrogen as the primary source of energy for propulsion. Since this propulsion energy is entirely electric, no combustion occurs and no carbon emissions are produced.
How do fuel cells generate electricity?
Fuel cells generate electricity in a process that relies on hydrogen and oxygen. Supplied separately to the device, the hydrogen accumulates on one side of a special membrane at the fuel cell’s core, with the oxygen on the opposing side. The hydrogen passes through the membrane and combines with the oxygen on the other side to form pure water. This movement of hydrogen through the membrane creates an electric current across its surface. As more and more membranes are stacked (like a sandwich), more and more electricity can be generated. The result is a powerful device that generates electrical power with no combustion and no emissions other than pure water vapour.
How is hydrogen supplied to the fuel cell?
While the oxygen needed for the fuel cell to operate can be drawn from the surrounding air, the hydrogen is kept in a storage tank onboard the train. Hydrogen, the most plentiful element in the universe, readily reacts and bonds with many other elements to form familiar molecules and compounds. As a result, hydrogen must first be extracted and then transported and stored for fuel. To efficiently carry the most hydrogen in the least volume, it is usually stored as a gas under pressure or chilled to a liquid state. If released, the hydrogen rapidly rises and disperses into the atmosphere – after all, it is the lightest element.
What are the advantages of a fuel cell?
Similar to a battery, a fuel cell can supply electrical energy with no combustion emissions. However fuel cells have the added advantage of being able to continually generate power as long as fuel and air are available, enabling the vehicle to travel a greater range and carry a heavier haul compared to using only batteries.
If electrification of an existing railway is desired, hydrail can enable a transition to fully electric locomotives. Because overhead wires are not required, hydrail significantly reduces the cost of electrified railway as there is
- no need to construct elaborate structures to support overhead wires;
- no need to raise bridges;
- no need to enlarge tunnels;
- no need to clear tree covers.
Because Hydrail is a wirelessly electrified railway solution, it may be the quickest way to realize the benefits of zero-emission train operation.
How can hydrail be a zero-carbon solution?
More than just zero-emission, Hydrail systems can also be zero-carbon. One way to produce hydrogen is through electrolysis – the application of electrical energy to water to split molecules of water (H2O) into H2 (hydrogen) and O2 (oxygen). If the electricity to power the electrolysis process is generated without burning fossil fuels (e.g., wind, solar, hydro or nuclear) then its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could be very low or virtually negligible. Hence, hydrogen produced in this manner is considered a zero-emission, zero-carbon fuel.
At a large enough scale, electrolysis can help electrical grid operators to more precisely balance the supply and demand on transmission systems. Grid-scale electrolysis is used in Europe to integrate high levels of wind and solar power into the system. When demand for power is low, but the availability of power is high, electrolyzers can be engaged to convert the available power into hydrogen – a storable, portable, versatile and valuable form of energy.