The government of Russia’s Sakhalin Oblast, Rosatom, Russian Railways and Transmashholding (TMH) on 3 September signed a protocol concerning a project for organising a railway service using hydrogen fuel cell trains on Sakhalin island.

The protocol was signed by the Governor of the Sakhalin Region Valery Limarenko, First Deputy General Director for Development and International Business at Rosatom Kirill Komarov, General Director and Chairman of the Board of Russian Railways Oleg Belozerov and TMH General Director Kirill Lipa.

“The time has come to design and manufacture a pilot batch of seven trains. We will have to create a low-tonnage hydrogen production facility and a network of refuelling complexes directly on Sakhalin, form a pilot test site and launch a regular passenger rail service,” said Valery Limarenko.

“A competence centre will be created at the island university to train the necessary personnel. The Sakhalin Region is becoming a leader in a new for Russia, a very promising branch of the economy associated with the production and use of hydrogen. For the region and its inhabitants, this means an increase in tax revenues, preservation of the environment, and the creation of additional high-tech jobs. For many Sakhalin and Kuril residents, this is a chance to become a valuable, in-demand specialist in a new promising industry, in a new profession.”

He added that Rosatom was working with the Sakhalin Oblast government on comprehensive measures to support the project, including those related to organising a hydrogen production complex on the island, where hydrogen can be produced for the needs of the transport sector. Within the framework of the project, Rosatom is responsible for the production and supply of hydrogen fuel, organisation and operation of the refuelling infrastructure. “In view of Rosatom’s large-scale programme for the development of hydrogen technologies, we are considering the prospect of using domestic technologies to provide future trains with hydrogen fuel,” said Komarov.

Oleg Belozerov noted: “We are systematically working to improve the environmental friendliness of rolling stock. Hydrogen trains are no longer a fantasy, but our immediate future. They will make it possible to reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere to zero. Of course, we still have a long way to go to work out technological and economic aspects, but we will definitely find a solution that is comfortable for everyone. Experience shows that needed innovative technologies offer acceptable options for implementation in a fairly short time.”

Kirill Lipa said TMH is investing significant resources in the project. “The best engineering and design personnel of the holding have been involved in solving this problem, the technical appearance of the future rolling stock has already been determined. We believe that the success of this project and its scaling can significantly affect not only the environmental component of rail transportation, but also give an impetus to the development of technologies in general. We count on the active position of the state, which can seriously accelerate the implementation of the project on the introduction of hydrogen propulsion and, in the future, lead to a noticeable expansion of the scope of its application. "

The development of hydrogen energy is one of the priorities of the Energy Strategy of the Russian Federation by 2035. The Government of the Sakhalin Region aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and is interested in the application of hydrogen technologies in various sectors of the economy, the creation of a large export production of hydrogen, the formation of a unique specialisation and competence of the region in the global and national hydrogen markets.

In 2019, during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostock, the Sakhalin Government, Rosatom, and Transmashholding signed an agreement on cooperation and interaction on the project of organising railway traffic using trains with hydrogen fuel cells and systems to ensure their operation. Later, the Ministry for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, the Government of the Sakhalin Region and Rosatom signed an agreement of intent for cooperation on the project “Creation and Development of a Hydrogen Cluster”.

On 2 September, Anton Moskvin, vice president of Rusatom Overseas, said a hydrogen production plant on Sakhalin is planned to be built by 2024 and to begin the first export deliveries of this type of fuel in 2025. The development of a feasibility study of the project will be completed this year, he noted. "We plan to build a large-scale hydrogen production facility on Sakhalin. With production at the first phase of about 30,000 tons a year, and subsequently by 2030 up to 100,000 tons, he told the Eastern Economic Forum at the session on Breakthrough Projects in the Far East.

The pre-feasibility study of the project is already ready, "we plan to complete the feasibility study of the project at the end of this year and further develop the project.” Saskhalin Governor Valery Limarenko told the session that Rosatom and Air Liquide are participating in the implementation of the project for the construction of a large-scale hydrogen production plant. It is planned to sign an agreement with Gazprom on the release of methane as a resource base for the implementation of the first stage of the project and the first batch of hydrogen, will be delivered to Japan.

Limarenko added that since "hydrogen is a volatile material that cannot be transferred through a pipe or pumped into a cylinder, the idea of ​​mixing it with nitrogen and transferring it to the buyer in the form of ammonia is being discussed, since it is easier to do." But it will ultimately depend on the feasibility study. The regional government will select a site for the construction of a future plant and a terminal for the shipment of hydrogen or ammonia. Moskvin said that negotiations on the export of hydrogen are currently underway "with Japanese and Korean customers”.