“Hydrogen drives like that of our Mireo Plus H will play a significant role in countering climate change.”
The mobility of the future has an important role to play in the battle against the climate crisis. New mobility concepts are needed in order to reduce carbon emissions. With its DEGREE framework, Siemens AG – along with Siemens Mobility – has set ambitious priorities for climate protection. Siemens has pledged to support the 1.5 degree target to fight global warming.
With Mireo Plus H, Siemens Mobility is offering a train that could be an important milestone in the battle against climate change. Together with Deutsche Bahn, Siemens Mobility is developing an overall system that consists of an innovative hydrogen train and a filling station. Mireo Plus H is expected to enter passenger service in 2024. In an interview, we asked Albrecht Neumann, CEO Rolling Stock at Siemens Mobility, about the future of public passenger rail service and why hydrogen technology plays an important role.
Mr. Neumann, climate change is the major challenge of our time. Alternative concepts in rail transportation have gained more and more attention. Why is the focus on rail traffic so important?
Well, first of all, the mobility sector bears considerable responsibility for reducing carbon emissions, because it can be expected to have tremendous leverage. The electrification of rail transportation is key. That’s why the German “Pro-Rail Alliance” set the goal of electrifying 70 percent of the German rail network by 2025. However, this involves challenges for which solutions have to be found.
The mobility sector bears considerable responsibility for reducing carbon emissions.
What challenges are we talking about?
Not all sections can be supplied with electrical energy via an overhead line system. For example, tunnels and bridges in particular make the installation of an overhead line system difficult. In these cases, electrification is costly and time-consuming. I hate to say it but, for now, 100-percent electrification of the German and European railway networks is just a dream. That’s why we have to find environmentally friendly solutions for non-electrified sections.
And that’s what you’re currently working on?
Yes. These solutions already exist. We’re talking about hybrid solutions, such as trains that run on electricity but can be switched over when they have to bridge sections that aren’t electrified. Or trains that are specially designed for longer, non-electrified sections. That’s exactly why we developed Mireo Plus H.
Could you give us more details?
Mireo Plus H is based on our successful Mireo platform. What’s special about Mireo Plus H is the hydrogen drive. A powerful, safe lithium-ion traction battery supports the fuel cell during operation and recuperates braking energy. Specifically, instead of drawing its electric drive energy directly from the overhead line, the drive draws it from a fuel cell that’s fed hydrogen from tanks on the roof. The result is local emissions-free mobility in places without electrification.
Are there already specific areas of application?
So far, there have been solutions that are very profitable for railway operators but are only suitable for operating on short sections in battery mode and on a relatively flat terrain. This is where the hydrogen drive comes into its own, when the section topology is more challenging or the non-electrified sections are longer.
Now the most important question: Is hydrogen the fuel of the future?
Yes, you could say that, the benefits are obvious. Hydrogen is a sustainable raw material. The hydrogen drive is extremely quiet, and in the Mireo Plus H version, it’s just as powerful as conventional drives. Not everyone knows that yet, there are still preconceptions that we have to overcome. For operators, the low maintenance costs are also important. Unlike diesel engines, fuel cells have no moving parts and aren’t subject to mechanical wear, which makes maintenance much simpler. This means we can reduce maintenance and lifecycle costs for operators.
Hydrogen is a sustainable raw material. The hydrogen drive is extremely quiet. It’s just as powerful as conventional drives.
In other words, the transition to hydrogen is good not only for the environment but also for the operator?
We think so. Of course, the cost of hydrogen – naturally, green hydrogen, if possible – has to be taken into account in the overall balance sheet. Currently it’s still more expensive than diesel fuel. But we’re assuming that with the expansion of production capacities and increasing taxation of carbon emissions, this will change over the long term. We also want to make the transition to hydrogen drives as attractive as possible for companies. That’s why we’re putting together an offering for all companies that are interested in being part of a future-driven industry. We’re offering them an all-round worry-free package that includes the hydrogen train, its maintenance, and its infrastructure.
How does future development look? When and where will the first hydrogen trains begin operation?
As I mentioned, we’re working with Deutsche Bahn to put hydrogen on the rails. We’re supplying the vehicle – our hydrogen train, Mireo Plus H. Deutsche Bahn’s role in this joint project is to develop the associated hydrogen filling station and also take care of the fuel supply. In 2024, we’ll start trial operation on the Tübingen-Horb-Pforzheim line. And just recently, we and the Bavarian state government signed a letter of intent for trial operation in Bavaria starting in 2023. So the climate-friendly transportation transition on rails is fully underway. And we’re extremely pleased as well as proud that we can make an important contribution with our Mireo Plus H.
Mr. Neumann, thanks so much for talking with us.