THE Korean Railroad Research Institute (KRRI) has announced details of a project to develop what it says is the world’s first liquefied hydrogen-based traction system.

The research project commenced in January and is set to run until December 2024 and aims to develop a 2.7MW module-based fuel cell propulsion system based on liquefied hydrogen. KRRI says the fuel cell system will support operation at up to 150km/h and offer a range of 1000km as well as reduce refuelling times by 20% compared with 700bar gaseous hydrogen trains.

Liquefied hydrogen is manufactured by liquefying hydrogen in a cryogenic state below -253°C. The pressure of liquefied hydrogen is much lower than gaseous high-pressure hydrogen, which is used in existing hydrogen rail vehicles such as Alstom’s Coradia iLint, meaning that it can be stored and transported in a stable state. In addition, KRRI says the storage density of liquefied hydrogen is about twice as high as in a gaseous state and the transport efficiency is seven-times more economical.

The project aims to develop a liquefied hydrogen hybrid propulsion system, high-insulation cryogenic liquid hydrogen storage technology, and a fast charging technology, and install it for testing on an LRV in the second half of 2022.

An impression of the liquefied hydrogen charging infrastructure presented by KRRI.

If the research project proceeds as hoped, the plan is to commercialise the technology in 2025. Korea’s national operator Korail says it is ready to replace diesel trains with hydrogen-based traction, with the Korean government stating in January that it is aiming to eliminate all diesel passenger trains by 2029.

KRRI is partnering with Hyundai Rotem, VC Tech, and Parity on the programme, which has a Won 18.6bn ($US 16.6m) budget, with the Korean government providing Won 14.5bn and private enterprise Won 4.1bn.

KRRI is already working with Hyundai Rotem to develop a gaseous hydrogen vehicle with this project set to conclude in 2022. This technology can support operation at 110km/h and offer a range of up to 600km on a single charge. A pilot train is expected to be used on the line between Gangneung and Jejin on the border with North Korea. In addition, Hyundai Rotem and the city of Ulsan have also signed an MoU to produce and test hydrogen LRVS on a trial line in Ulsan port.

In December 2020, Hyundai Rotem opened a full-scale hydrogen extraction facility in the city of Uiwang to accelerate the development of its hydrogen economy infrastructure. The manufacturer says it aims to localise production of parts, including catalytic agents, by March 2022. 

In February the government introduced the Hydrogen Economy Promotion and Hydrogen Safety Management Act, which aims to accelerate technology development to apply liquefied hydrogen to transport.