The Future of Hydrogen Transport. Interview with Thomas Goletz

Written by Chris Kwacz

Today we deliver to You a very interesting interview about the future of Hydrogen Transport. The special guest that is sharing his thoughts and opinions about that rapidly developing market is Thomas Goletz, The President and CEO of Meet Hydrogen Association. Thomas is CEO of MGI Inc, a company based in Germany and China. MGI brings clean energy technologies into markets and invests directly into hydrogen based projects. Thomas is also president of our Meet Hydrogen Association. Meet Hydrogen supports regions, cities, and companies to find their own business models around the hydrogen economy. Today the association works directly in several European markets like Poland, Germany, Spain, Italy, or Denmark as well as in China.

The Future of Hydrogen Transport with Thomas Goletz

We already have Hydrogen trains like Coradia iLint or Mireo Plus H, Hydrogen Buses including Solaris Urbino 12 Hydrogen. It’s time for Hydrogen Trams?

Thomas: Light and commuter train networks are today in many regions already electrified, and subways and trams have usually electric powertrains. Hydrogen powered vehicles, like cars, buses, or trains, use today also electric powertrains. Hydrogen combustion engines are out of date. They generate their electrical power by fuel cells. This is the main difference to their conventional counterparts: Hydrogen powered vehicles are electrical vehicles generating the needed electrical power on demand and on site. They are independent from any power grid and don’t rely on overhead cables. At the same time, they are emissions free. Like hydrogen powered buses hydrogen trams use existing technologies. In general, it isn’t something revolutionary, but it is a power evolution. Hydrogen power trams give tram operators the freedom to run their entire fleet emission free and use electrical powertrains. They don’t have to invest into building and maintaining a full overhead cable network. It opens them additional degrees of freedom how they develop and operate their emission free public transport system. Therefore, hydrogen powered vehicles, and in particular hydrogen trams are a very important module to reach emission and hassle-free public transportation networks.

Many tram manufacturers and operators are trapped in traditional approach of using catenary networks for supplying electrical energy to their trains. But this means without a catenary network they can’t operate their trams. Therefore, CRRC Sifang’s attempt last year is so important and relevant: Sifang’s hydrogen-based tram is not a prototype or a show case , it is a market ready product, already in operation at several places. They operate a full line in Foshan. It is the world first commercial hydrogen tram. The cool thing is that the entire line and its trains are fully integrated into Foshan’s public transport system and it works seamless for the passengers. It is -like always-not only technology, it is the smart use of it.

Hydrogen is a huge opportunity in our path to Zero Emission Transport. Pure water released instead a CO2 is like a dream coming true. What are the other advantages of this technology!?

Thomas: As always it is important to have a more holistic view to a system or solution. Hydrogen powered application like transport can be only really clean if the entire energy chain is clean. On Without clean generation of hydrogen we can’t talk about emission free transport. Today, we have technologies and processes to generate clean hydrogen, or as many name “green hydrogen”. Let’s assume that we live in a world with green hydrogen, then we are really close to zero emissions. That’s the reason why hydrogen as energy carrier is so important for any decarbonization strategy. And this brings us to the other benefits of hydrogen applications: Hydrogen is an energy carrier. You can store energy and use it when ever and where ever you need it. On demand, on site, on time. This advantage will be obvious if you compare a car with a combustion engine, a battery car and a hydrogen car. While petrol car uses gas as energy carrier, it is independent and you can refuel it very quick. But it is not clean. The battery car is clean, but you need a long time to charge the battery. A hydrogen car is clean, and you can refill it like a petrol car. This example shows very clear that essential advantage is the availability of energy on site, on demand and on time.

The hydrogen cost, production process and distribution chain are the basics of hydrogen economy growth. What is the current status and shape of the Hydrogen Economy worldwide and Poland, in particular?

Thomas: Hydrogen technologies make absolutely sense for endless application. They open the way to an emission free world, and they guarantee the freedom to use energy where ever you are, when ever you need it and how much you need. At the same time -as all technologies- it underlies the economical reality. Users have to pay for energy. And today fossil energies like coal and oil are much cheaper than renewables we need to produce green hydrogen. There are many reasons for that. Historically we are used to petrol powered cars. If we would apply the same strict regulations for a hydrogen powered car to a petrol powered car, then we would have petrol powered cars on the road. We have also accepted that the damages done by burning fossil energy carriers and polluting the environment, will be paid by the societies and by future generations. Former and our generations just don’t care and most of us are not willing to pay for the damages. If we would calculate the efforts to remove the green house gas generated by burning oil or gas and pay for it, then hydrogen as energy carrier would be immediately financially very attractive.

This means, as long as we don’t change the markets regulations and let oil and coal keep their historical advantage against new energy carriers, it will be hard to change the emission situation.

Nevertheless, we need to push forward. The recently in many European countries published national hydrogen strategies commence huge opportunities to build up a green hydrogen economy. Ideas to build huge hydrogen generation plants in regions like Australia and distribute it like oil today, shows where we all can go. It is up to the governments to provide an encouraging set of legal and economic regulations, and to motivate small and medium companies to adapt their business models for a hydrogen based economy. We see this already in China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and little bit in West Europe. Poland has great small and medium enterprises, the engineering skills are extraordinary and the sense for business is excellent. When the Polish government encourage those people and companies to step forward, they will succeed.

What are the biggest challenges in the Hydrogen public transport expanse and growth?

Thomas: Main challenge is the generation of green hydrogen. Simply like that.

The legal regulations or hydrogen friendly law could speed up the whole process?

Thomas: Yes and no. Subsidiaries are never developing markets. There must be a need for a product or service. Smart governments define the framework for ecosystems and markets, they don’t pay for it.

Thomas Goletz




The Interview was released in “Raport Tramwajowy”:

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