Mon, Mar

Japan Railway Wants Fuel Cell Trains on The Track in Next 6 Years

Studies are under way to get a fuel cell-powered, nonpolluting, low-noise train into service by about 2010, the Railway Technical Research Institute said Monday.

Dec. 6—Studies are under way to get a fuel cell-powered, nonpolluting, low-noise train into service by about 2010, the Railway Technical Research Institute said Monday.

The RTRI fuel cell-driven train development program has been making steady progress and in February successfully test-drove a prototype bogie—a wheel system powered by fuel cells, institute officials said.

The institute plans to build an experimental fuel cell-powered train to run on RTRI's test tracks in Kunitachi, western Tokyo, in the near future.

The institute has engaged in research and development on fuel cell trains since 2001, when it successfully ran a mini-train powered by fuel cells with an output of one kilowatt-hour with one person aboard.

The RTRI was established in 1987 following the privatization of Japanese National Railways as a joint R & D institute of the seven Japan Railway companies. Among its major projects is the development of a Maglev (magnetic levitation) system.

The prototype bogie tested in February used a fuel cell system with an output of 30 kilowatt-hours, and showed a top speed of 30 kph, the institute said.

The fuel cell system being tested in the RTRI project is basically the same as that used in automobiles, designed to generate electric power through a reaction between hydrogen in a cylinder and oxygen in the air.

The only by-product of the reaction is water, while the electric-powered motor produces far less noise than a diesel engine, according to the institute.

The fuel cell train now envisioned by RTRI will consist of two cars, one equipped with a set of four motors, a transformer and a battery, and the other equipped with fuel cells and a hydrogen cylinder.

The vehicle will be able to run at a maximum speed of 120 kph and travel a maximum of 300-to-400 kilometers before the hydrogen cylinder needs replacing.

A major hurdle to be cleared before the planned fuel cell-powered train can be put into service is to boost the fuel cells' efficiency, according to Kenichi Uruga, chief of the institute's Vehicle Control Technology Department.

To run a couple of carriages, fuel cells capable of turning out 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity are needed, he said.

Fuel cells capable of producing that amount of electricity currently available are too large to be set up in the envisaged vehicle, Uruga said.

"We need to reduce the size of fuel cells by about two-thirds to overcome the hurdle," he said.

The application of a fuel cell-powered vehicle depends largely on progress in developments by fuel cell manufacturers, Uruga added, "Given the remarkably rapid advances in fuel cell technology in recent years, we believe our fuel cell-powered train program is feasible."

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