Trains, buses and trucks are all vital to the modern world, but the vast majority of them use huge amounts of fuel and create tons of air pollution. What’s even worse is that they represent a (thus far) missed opportunity for making the world’s cities greener.
While buses reduce the need for cars, trains are capable of hauling huge amounts of goods, as are trucks, AND moving huge amounts of people. Imagine if we could convert all of these big vehicles to run on hydrogen, which is the most basic of all molecules.
Sadly, hydrogen hasn’t taken off as a fuel when it comes to cars and light vehicles, and that’s due to various logistical difficulties, such as the prohibitively expensive cost of creating a large filling station network, and difficulty actually getting the fuel into a car (hydrogen is volatile and needs to be contained properly).
Hydrogen has been used for a variety of purposes, both industrial and commercial, since the first time it was liquefied at the end of the 19th Century. During the 1920s and 30s, it was used in the enormous airships that used to criss-cross the Atlantic Ocean until the fateful Hindenburg disaster of 1937, which heralded the end of the airship era.
Hydrogen regained prominence as a commercial fuel in the early 1980s following the end of the energy crisis. It was also spurred on further by the rising greenhouse gas problem and climate change. After decades of collaborating and innovating, scientists managed to create the first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell back in 2007.
Think of a hydrogen fuel cell as a gigantic, chemically-powered battery that collects hydrogen atoms and strips them of their electrons. The ionized atoms carry a charge that’s collected and sent through negatively-charged wires to generate power. The cell burns water and nothing else, so the only by-product is odorless water vapor.
Many of the world’s advanced nations, namely Norway, Japan and Germany, are investing heavily in the technology in order to move away from their dependence on fossil fuels. The Norwegians, for instance, are going about implementing a new hydrogen-powered train network right now, saving $67 million a year in fuel in the process.
Germany is going even further. It will launch the world’s first hydrogen-powered commuter rail service in December 2017. The hydrogen-powered trains will be used on smaller interurban routes initially, however it’s the first step towards a cleaner, zero-emissions future.
Content and image source: The Plaid Zebra