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 UK.
The 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 to power the permanent magnet electric motors and to charge the batteries. The batteries help to meet the peak power demands when accelerating under load.
As well as providing a clean source of energy, hydrogen offers a considerable extension in range in comparison to battery-only operation. More than 5,000 litres of hydrogen are stored in a solid-state metal hydride tank at relatively low pressure, with the system typically operating at just 5bar.
This was achieved by using one of the 10 advanced hydrogen storage units successfully employed on the university’s hydrogen-powered canal boat, the Ross Barlow.
That amount of hydrogen enables the locomotive to haul a 400kg load over 2,700m, and two additional tanks can be fitted easily to extend the range further.
The locomotive also features regenerative braking to capture, store and reuse brake energy, as well as adjustable air suspension and a highly advanced touchscreen remote control that operates over a wi-fi link.
Project team leader Stephen Kent said: “We are really pleased with the locomotive, particularly as it managed to haul 4,000kg, well over the specified load.”
Dr Stuart Hillmansen from the University of Birmingham’s school of electronic, electrical and computer engineering is faculty adviser to the team. He said: “Our 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.”
The locomotive was tested at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire as part of a competition led by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.