Lifting the Barriers
to Refueling

As the world gets back on track, many people in Germany and other countries take the train, especially on the commute to work and in metropolitan areas. One of the advantages is resource-saving, environmentally friendly mobility. The propulsion systems have an important part to play in this.


Ready for operation: Jens Sprotte, Vice President Marketing & Strategy at rail vehicle manufacturer Alstom, has received great interest and lively demand for the Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered local transport train.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

When it comes to future mobil­i­ty, Jens Sprotte is fully com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing the cli­mate and con­serv­ing resources. A man fizzing with ener­gy, Sprotte is the senior man­ag­er respon­si­ble for the hydro­gen-pow­ered Cora­dia iLint local trans­port train at the Ger­man sub­sidiary of the French train man­u­fac­tur­er Alstom. If the author­i­ties let the Vice Pres­i­dent for Mar­ket­ing & Strat­e­gy have his way, envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly hydro­gen-pow­ered trains could play an impor­tant role even soon­er. This would be par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful in region­al pub­lic trans­port, which is char­ac­ter­ized by rel­a­tive­ly short dis­tances and fre­quent stops, and where there are many lines that at present can only be oper­at­ed with diesel loco­mo­tives due to the lack of over­head elec­tric lines. The Alstom Group is already show­ing how a dif­fer­ent track is pos­si­ble in the north­ern Ger­man state of Lower Sax­ony, where the Cora­dia iLint runs on a reg­u­lar ser­vice in the North Sea coastal region around Cux­haven. In sum­mer 2023 the train will also be tri­alled in Cana­da, tak­ing pas­sen­gers along the St. Lawrence River on the Charlevoix Rail­way. The green hydro­gen will be sup­plied by a Harnois Éner­gies plant in Que­bec City. With the results of this project, Alstom aims to be bet­ter able to assess the devel­op­ment of hydro­gen tech­nol­o­gy in the North Amer­i­can market.

Alstom was the first man­u­fac­tur­er to estab­lish the new sys­tem with fuel cells from Cana­da in reg­u­lar oper­a­tion. These cells gen­er­ate elec­tri­cal ener­gy from hydro­gen and oxy­gen, and the cur­rent to drive the train is stored in what are known as trac­tion bat­ter­ies. The ener­gy gen­er­at­ed dur­ing brak­ing also flows direct­ly into the bat­ter­ies for stor­age. This reduces hydro­gen con­sump­tion and increas­es the range.

“We are not only putting an innovative train on the tracks, but are also supplying the infrastructure for hydrogen operation. That’s what our customers expect,” says Jens Sprotte.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Vita Jens Sprotte

Jens Sprotte was born in 1973 and holds a degree in economics from the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences in Wolfenbüttel. In 2003, he joined Alstom in Salzgitter as a project manager and his customers for the LINT local transport train included Deutsche Bahn. Away from rail, he managed the young executive exchange program between Alstom and the German government at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development for one year. Since 2021, he has been Vice President of Marketing & Strategy for the DACH region.

A world record to boot

For hydro­gen trains to make their way onto many more routes, Sprotte needs a lot more atten­tion. He’s get­ting involved in this with sport­ing zest, and even orga­nized a world record. He reserved a spe­cial slot for his Cora­dia iLint on the very busy Deutsche Bahn rail net­work, invit­ed TV crews and news­pa­per edi­tors to sta­tions in every Ger­man state along the route, and sent them on the hydro­gen-pow­ered train from the far north to the south­ern border.

Sprotte orig­i­nal­ly expect­ed his train to cover at least 1,000 kilo­me­ters on just one tank of fuel. The esti­mate was delib­er­ate­ly cau­tious, and in the end there was enough left to go much fur­ther. The jour­ney ended just before the two onboard tanks were com­plete­ly empty—after 1,175 kilo­me­ters and a con­sump­tion of 250 kilo­grams of hydro­gen. That works out to 21.3 kilo­grams of hydro­gen per 100 kilo­me­ters of track.

At its Salzgitter plant in northern Germany, the French company Alstom produces the Coradia iLint and other models for regional transit. It also offers repair and maintenance services, for example for freight cars. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

“Our iLint is so eco­nom­i­cal that it only needs to be refu­eled every two days in typ­i­cal region­al oper­a­tion,” boasts Sprotte. But there’s still one incred­i­bly frus­trat­ing catch. After the world record trip, the Cora­dia iLint was unable to return home under its own power. The shiny new­com­er had to be cou­pled to anoth­er loco­mo­tive. But why? “Because there are hard­ly any suit­able hydro­gen refu­el­ing sta­tions for trains on the line,” says Sprotte. That has to change, and it’s now becom­ing clear that man­u­fac­tur­ers like Alstom will step in for them­selves. “It’s no longer enough for us to put a train on the rails for our cus­tomers. When run­ning them on hydro­gen, we also have to sup­ply them with the infra­struc­ture and oper­ate it. And that begins with the hydro­gen fill­ing stations.”

How Alstom is shaping the future on rails

The market-listed Alstom S. A. is an international rolling stock manufacturer based in Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine, France. With more than 74,000 employees worldwide, the train manufacturer generated revenue of 15.5 billion euros in fiscal year 2021/2022. Alstom’s corporate headquarters in Germany are in Berlin. Around 10,000 people develop, produce and service rail vehicles, components and signaling technology for the domestic and international markets at 13 German locations from Bautzen to Hennigsdorf and Salzgitter to Mannheim. These include the world’s first fuel cell-powered regional multiple-unit train, the Coradia iLint. At the major airports in Frankfurt am Main and Munich, Alstom operates and maintains the automatic shuttle trains (called people movers) that it produces for transporting passengers between terminals. Alstom’s reference products in Germany include the ultra-modern S-Bahn trains supplied to Hamburg, where technology for automated train operation (ATO) is being installed for the first time in Germany on new S-Bahn vehicles. In what is known as the second automation stage, the journey itself is controlled automatically. The driver is only responsible for the departure command and door control.
With the durable Coradia iLint regional train and its hydrogen propulsion system, Jens Sprotte hopes to contribute to the energy and transport revolution. “Particularly in rural areas, expensive, complex electrification of regional lines is not worthwhile,” he says.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The body shell of the Coradia iLint is made of steel and is manufactured at Alstom’s Salzgitter plant in northern Germany. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Sandblasting the surfaces and painting the body are the next steps. To do this, the train is taken to the other side of the extensive Alstom plant. The customer chooses the colors.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Industrial Director Torsten John (left) is responsible for production at Alstom Deutschland GmbH. He and Sprotte have demonstrated the Coradia iLint to many decision-makers from transport operators at the factory—with a very positive response.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The two-car Coradia iLint is 54 meters long. When completed, it has 138 seats and 144 standing places for passengers. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
At Alstom’s Salzgitter plant, the Coradia iLint is equipped with 16 roof tanks, each holding 380 liters of hydrogen. The heavy lithium-ion batteries are located under the passenger compartment. The hybrid multiple-unit train can travel 1,000 kilometers before refueling.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Jens Sprotte has already achieved a great deal. The Coradia iLint hydrogen project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport. The train has also been accepted into the national innovation program for hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Shortly before delivery to the customer, the driver’s cab of the Coradia iLint is still covered with protective foil. With every train Sprotte hands over, a new ambassador for sustainable rail transport takes to the tracks. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Hydrogen from the region—for everyone

The infra­struc­ture prob­lem is by no means unique to Alstom. When using hydro­gen, peo­ple all too often think in terms of their own indus­try instead of glob­al sys­tems. Logis­tics, fill­ing sta­tions and effi­cient use through net­works are still in their infan­cy and have been for years. Admit­ted­ly, dif­fer­ent users have dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions. “But the hydro­gen is always the same. And it has to be avail­able to any­one who wants it, direct­ly where it’s need­ed. That’s essen­tial in order to lever­age syn­er­gies and achieve economies of scale,” says Chris­t­ian Dittmer-Peters. As a part­ner at the man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cy Porsche Con­sult­ing, he is help­ing Alstom with its envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly rail cam­paign. He is com­mit­ted to build­ing a “multi-user hydro­gen ecosystem.”

On the fac­to­ry tracks of Alstom Trans­port Deutsch­land GmbH in Salzgit­ter in north­ern Ger­many, the new hydro­gen trains roll out of the long pro­duc­tion halls. Since the end of August 2022, these trains have been grad­u­al­ly replac­ing the diesel-pow­ered vehi­cles of the Lower Sax­ony state pub­lic trans­port author­i­ty (LNVG) on sched­uled ser­vices on the local trans­port net­work between Cux­haven, Bre­mer­haven, Bre­mervörde and Bux­te­hude. The fleet for LNVG will com­prise a total of 14 Cora­dia iLint trains. In Bre­mervörde, Linde GmbH, the world mar­ket leader for indus­tri­al gases, built a hydro­gen fill­ing sta­tion for the trains. The best thing is that the gas comes as a waste prod­uct from a chem­i­cal plant in the town of Stade, only 30 kilo­me­ters away. If it were not used as ener­gy in the trains, it would be dis­posed of.

Alstom sent its Coradia iLint hydrogen train, which is actually intended for regional transport, on a world-record journey from the north to the south of Germany.Alstom Deutschland GmbH

The operator—the local trans­port authority—is extreme­ly sat­is­fied: “By using the hydro­gen trains on reg­u­lar ser­vices, in the past few months we have proven that this inno­v­a­tive form of propul­sion is in no way infe­ri­or to diesel. Quite the oppo­site,” says LNVG Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Car­men Schw­abl. “With the hydro­gen project, we’ve given impe­tus to the devel­op­ment of hydro­gen trains in Ger­many and in order to do even more for the cli­mate, we will no longer buy diesel vehicles.”

And Dr. Math­ias Kranz, Linde’s Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of On-site and Bulk Busi­ness in Ger­many, is excit­ed about a new area of busi­ness: “At Linde, we’ve been com­mit­ted to spread­ing sus­tain­able hydro­gen tech­nolo­gies for more than 30 years. By estab­lish­ing the world’s first hydro­gen fill­ing sta­tion for trains in Bre­mervörde, we have opened up a new mobil­i­ty sec­tor.” The net­work in the north of Ger­many is the world’s first sched­uled pas­sen­ger ser­vice with hydro­gen trains.

Christian Dittmer-Peters calls for intelligent funding

“Hydrogen deserves a more motivated approach”

Christian Dittmer-Peters, Partner at Porsche Consulting (left), and Jens Sprotte, Vice President of Marketing & Strategy at Alstom, are taking an integrated, cross-sector view of the hydrogen infrastructure so that the new regional train can operate on as many non-electrified routes as possible. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
“As management consultants, we’re helping to make hydrogen more than just a niche fuel,” says Christian Dittmer-Peters, Partner at Porsche Consulting. “It was important for the success of the new hydrogen trains to link the manufacturer Alstom with potential stakeholders who play important parts in the ecosystem.” Someone has to produce the hydrogen, someone else has to transport and store it, and as many users as possible have to consume the fuel in order to make the system profitable,” says Dittmer-Peters. Alstom’s customers, the transport companies, not only wanted to buy the trains, but also needed an infrastructure for the new energy supply that they could not build themselves. This means it must be ensured that hydrogen remains fully available over the long service life of regional trains. “In the state of Lower Saxony, we found entrepreneurs who were willing to go beyond their core business and also become filling station operators,” explains Dittmer-Peters. The objective: “The future network of filling stations should make hydrogen available not just to one rail company, but also to completely different modes of transport—such as the van and truck fleets of freight forwarders or delivery services.” Following the successful pilot project in Lower Saxony, management consultant Dittmer-Peters also sees good opportunities elsewhere to make hydrogen available and usable for various modes of transport in Germany. Potential locations include North Rhine-Westphalia with Duisport—Europe’s largest inland port in the city of Duisburg—the state of Schleswig-Holstein and the seaport city of Hamburg. Dittmer-Peters: “Now we have to convince politicians of the benefits of the technology. We need even more interaction between everyone involved. And in Porsche Consulting’s view, public funding should in future be linked to successes and economic results. Such incentives can ensure that good ideas pay for themselves as quickly as possible and that projects don’t just run for as long as funding is available.” The consultant also sees another economic aspect: “Instead of paying compensation for electricity not generated by wind turbines or solar plants, you could make hydrogen with the surplus electricity to use the energy later.” For example, farmers who operate wind turbines on their fields could use a small special device called an electrolyzer to convert surplus green electricity into hydrogen on their farm. This could then be used to fuel tractors and other agricultural machinery as needed—in other words, with energy that is generated on site in an environmentally friendly way and without complicated supply logistics. This would also have another practical advantage in that future electric drives would make agricultural machinery significantly heavier than with hydrogen propulsion systems because of the large batteries. Even heavier vehicles would not be desirable for agricultural work, because it would compact the soil too much and consequently reduce yields.

Frankfurt on the same track

Anoth­er net­work, the Rhine-Main trans­port asso­ci­a­tion (RMV) began oper­at­ing 27 hydro­gen trains in Decem­ber 2022. They will take pas­sen­gers from the bank­ing metrop­o­lis of Frank­furt am Main to Bran­dobern­dorf in the Taunus region, a town with a pop­u­la­tion of 2,000. The nec­es­sary hydro­gen fill­ing sta­tion was built in the Frank­furt-Höchst indus­tri­al park by Infra­serv Höchst, the com­pa­ny that oper­ates the indus­tri­al park. RMV Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Prof. Knut Ringat points out proud­ly that this inno­va­tion in the Rhine-Main region is “the largest hydro­gen train fleet in the world.” The RMV trains are not only as quiet as elec­tri­cal­ly pow­ered vehi­cles, but they also only emit water vapor dur­ing oper­a­tion. This means they save around 19,000 tons of CO2 each year. The hydro­gen is pro­duced in the near­by indus­tri­al park—also as a waste prod­uct from chem­i­cal process­es. Ringat also cites pub­lic mobil­i­ty with­out pol­lu­tion as a goal: “In order to achieve this, we will demand envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly propul­sion sys­tems in all our invi­ta­tions to ten­der from 2030,” promis­es the head of the trans­port association.

Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly and also in terms of pro­duc­tion process­es, the switch to hydro­gen has long been part of every­day life for man­u­fac­tur­er Alstom. “The essen­tial drive com­po­nents were all fully devel­oped and avail­able on the mar­ket,” says Alstom man­ag­er Sprotte. What’s much more com­pli­cat­ed is some­thing that the cus­tomer expects to have from the day the trains are deliv­ered: “As a man­u­fac­tur­er, we must pro­vide our cus­tomers with an entire ecosys­tem of the nec­es­sary hydro­gen infra­struc­ture so that they can be sure they are buy­ing a high-per­for­mance, long-last­ing means of trans­port,” says Sprotte. Since the project began, he has had vis­i­tors from 35 coun­tries keen to find out more. Other projects in north­ern Italy, France and the Nether­lands are about to start.

The Coradia iLint was driven on its world record trip on the Deutsche Bahn network by Markus Steinbach—a German Alstom engineer with a locomotive driver’s license. Energy released during braking flows directly into the lithium-ion batteries.Alstom Deutschland GmbH

Combining the energy and transport sectors

Alstom’s task now is to clear exter­nal hur­dles out of the way. Sprotte explains this using the Bre­mervörde project as an exam­ple: “The loca­tion is geo­graph­i­cal­ly favor­able, almost in the mid­dle of the region­al trans­port net­work. If they were allowed to, Alstom and Linde could joint­ly sup­ply sev­er­al sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties with ready-made hydro­gen, for exam­ple for munic­i­pal com­mer­cial vehi­cles. But they can’t, and that’s because pub­lic fund­ing for the project was only grant­ed on the express con­di­tion that the fill­ing sta­tion be used exclu­sive­ly for rail trans­port.” This was met with incom­pre­hen­sion by the part­ners involved.

Sprotte says he is com­mit­ted to get­ting pol­i­cy­mak­ers to move away from a “trans­port only” or “ener­gy only” mind­set. An ener­gy and trans­port rev­o­lu­tion will only suc­ceed if there is joined-up think­ing, in other words, if the hydro­gen and trans­port strate­gies in Ger­many are linked. From an eco­nom­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed point of view, the fill­ing sta­tion would be much more effi­cient if it served more than just trains that come by every day or two to refu­el, and could instead be used by mul­ti­ple trans­porta­tion ser­vices. There is plen­ty of demand—in addi­tion to the fleets oper­at­ed by local author­i­ties, poten­tial ben­e­fi­cia­ries might include sched­uled bus ser­vices, freight for­warders, large agri­cul­tur­al oper­a­tions or par­cel and couri­er services.

Alstom engineer Markus Steinbach covered 1,175 kilometers of track on a long-distance route during his world-record trip with the Coradia iLint—on just one filling of hydrogen. In regional operation, this is enough for two days of regular scheduled service.Alstom Deutschland GmbH

The train man­u­fac­tur­er Alstom is con­vinced that hydro­gen propul­sion has a great future, although experts are aware that in rail trans­port, noth­ing tops the effi­cien­cy of elec­tric­i­ty from an over­head line. “But there are impor­tant, very plau­si­ble argu­ments for hydro­gen in many places,” says Sprotte: “The infra­struc­ture for elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is very expen­sive and is bare­ly worth­while for region­al trans­port in rural areas.” Elec­tri­fy­ing a sin­gle-track line costs 1.4 to 3.6 mil­lion euros per kilo­me­ter, depend­ing on the topography—whether flat­lands or hills. These fig­ures were pub­lished by the Ger­man Fed­er­al Min­istryof Trans­port in 2021 accord­ing to cal­cu­la­tions by DB Netz AG, the Deutsche Bahn sub­sidiary respon­si­ble for rail infrastructure.

Hydro­gen has other advan­tages, too. That’s because ide­al­ly, the gas is avail­able as a waste prod­uct. When this is not the case, it is pos­si­ble to use tech­nolo­gies such as wind power, which is some­times gen­er­at­ed in excess and can be con­vert­ed into hydro­gen. This way, cost­ly wind tur­bines would no longer have to be shut down at times when the demand for elec­tric­i­ty is met and there are no cus­tomers for the energy.

In Ger­many, many region­al trains cur­rent­ly on the lines were pur­chased dur­ing a boom short­ly after the turn of the mil­len­ni­um. They have now been in ser­vice for two decades and are about halfway through their life cycle. This includes many of the more than 1,000 LINT diesel trains from Alstom cur­rent­ly oper­at­ing in Germany’s region­al trans­port sys­tem. Their propul­sion sys­tems, as well as those of many shunt­ing loco­mo­tives, could, accord­ing to Sprotte, be con­vert­ed from min­er­al oil to hydro­gen for a “rea­son­able out­lay”. The main thing is to remove the bar­ri­ers to refueling.

Coradia iLint

The train in figures

Ready for its test run: the Coradia iLint at Alstom’s Salzgitter plant in Germany. The regional train is powered by electric motors that draw their energy from hydrogen fuel cells or storage batteries as required.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Manufacturer: Alstom S. A. Type: Two-car hybrid multiple-unit train for regional transport Propulsion system: Electric motors powered as required from batteries or hydrogen fuel cells Storage: 16 x 380 liters of hydrogen in roof tanks. Lithium-ion batteries under the passenger compartment Power: up to 544 kilowatts Top speed: 140 km/h Range: at least 1,000 km Length: approx. 54 m Max. axle load: 18 t Capacity: 138 seated and 144 standing passengers
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