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World's First Zero Emissions Train Expected For 2017

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Germany is on track to release the world's first zero-emission train in 2017, combating heavily polluting diesel trains across Europe with clean hydrogen power.

French engineering giant Alstom announced its hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint could be running on German railways by 2017, in efforts to eradicate the pollution from diesel-powered trains across Europe.

The iLint is only expected to run a 60-mile route, and four German states have signed an agreement to purchase 60 additional locomotives if the hydrogen train’s first run is a success, CNN reports.

"Alstom is proud to launch a breakthrough innovation in the field of clean transportation," Alstom Chairman and CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said in a statement. "It shows our ability to work in close collaboration with our customers and develop a train in only two years."

Most of Europe's rail lines are electrified, but about 20 percent of Europe’s rail traffic is hauled by diesel locomotives, according to the European Union. Germany has more than 4,000 diesel-powered train cars.

The Coradia iLint, first unveiled at a railway trade fair in Berlin in early 2016, uses the same equipment as a diesel train, but runs on hydrogen -- a waste product of the chemical industry that emits no pollution.

"Coradia iLint matches the range and performance of similar, conventional regional trains, but with nearly no impact on the environment," according to Alstom's video debuting the hydrogen train. "It's only emission is steam of water and condensed water, while it operates with the lowest noise levels." 

NASA has used liquid hydrogen to fuel its rockets since the 1970s, burning hydrogen with oxygen to produce enormous amounts of energy with zero harmful emissions, according to the Independent.

The Coradia iLint replicates this process in large fuel cells sitting atop the train, which then store the electricity produced in batteries, which in turn power the engine.

Each two-car train requires a fuel cell and 207-pound tank of hydrogen to run, while oxygen is obtained from the air. Alstom reports the train can run for 500 miles at 87 mph on a full tank of hydrogen, and can carry up to 300 passengers per trip. A full tank should fuel a train for an entire day.

Hydrogen has received scrutiny as a fuel source from the transportation sector due to its extremely flammable nature, but manufacturers, including Toyota and Honda, claim the fuel is actually safer than gasoline because hydrogen quickly dissipates in the atmosphere, ComputerWorld reports. By contrast, gasoline can leak and pool, resulting in prolonged burns.

Alstom expects to complete testing on two preproduction trains by the end of 2016, and will continue further testing with Germany’s Federal Railway Office the following year. If all goes well, Alstom expects to receive approval for the hydrogen-powered trains by the end of 2017.

Sources: CNN, Alstom, IndependentComputerWorld / Photo credit: Michael Wittwer/Alstom

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