The government has not made any official decisions on the use of the hydrogen-powered train, but if hydrogen is tested on the railway, the Tallinn-Viljandi line would be the best fit for the pilot section, said Ahti Kuningas, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MKM).
At the beginning of June, the Estonian Hydrogen Technology Association (EVÜ) proposed to three ministers, including the Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center), that hydrogen technology could be used instead of electricity in Estonian railway investments, as the association believes it is cheaper in many ways.
In response to the proposal, Kuningas wrote although the government has no formal decisions on the use of the hydrogen train, in future, using greener fuels on the railway has already been agreed.
"The Tallinn-Viljandi railway line would most likely be suitable as a pilot section for testing hydrogen on the railway. This section is completely non-electrified and is essentially a dead-end railway where regional passenger trains run," Kuningas wrote.
Last July, the government announced plans to electrify the entire Estonian railway network which is planned for 2022 and will cost almost €300 million. In total, about 800 kilometers of railways need to be electrified in Estonia.
According to the EVÜ, this is not economically reasonable, because the introduction of hydrogen technology offers a much cheaper solution. In a letter sent to ministers, the association noted the application of hydrogen technology instead of electrification would save up to €350 million, including the money spent on meeting the country's climate and renewable energy goals.
The group believe the money saved could be used to increase the speed of passenger traffic on the railway. In addition to the railway, the association recommends the use of hydrogen infrastructure in road transport as well.
The EVÜ proposal has been signed by, among others, the Estonian Research Council, the Institute of Chemical and Biological Physics, the Institute of Physics of the University of Tartu and the Institute of Chemistry of the University of Tartu.
Estonia is just beginning to study the use of hydrogen
MKM will conduct a study on the possibilities of using hydrogen and who will carry it out will be announced this fall. The study should also provide an answer on the use of hydrogen in the transport sector.
In addition, the state is planning a pilot project to test the entire hydrogen chain in Estonia, starting with production and ending with final consumption. The pilot project should be completed by 2024.
Kuningas said the pilot project may not take place on the railways: "Whether the pilot will be a hydrogen train, a ferry, a bus or something else is not known at the moment, it depends on its feasibility, perspective and other indicators."
He noted the use of hydrogen in the transport sector is still being tested in other parts of the world, and no country has decided to use it on a large scale.
"Hydrogen is primarily an alternative to energy storage. However, there are many unanswered questions about its safety, as it is significantly more flammable in contact with air than natural gas or petrol," he said.
Hydrogen as a possible energy source for the future is also a topic of discussion in the Transport Mobility and Development Plan 2021-2035.
Editor: Helen Wright