Sustainable mobility needs innovative and forward-looking technologies. We at Deutsche Bahn are therefore researching and developing green solutions for the transport of tomorrow with the aim of making our products and services even more climate-friendly and further reducing our carbon footprint. Together with partners from research and industry, our goal is to turn fiction into reality.
Quiet and clean drone transportation
We worked with Volocopter to create the VoloDrone, an autonomous, electric-powered drone for carrying cargo deliveries. It can transport payloads of up to 200 kilograms and cover distances of up to 40 kilometers.
The project's goal is to use the VoloDrone as a means of transporting cargo for DB Schenker in the near future. This will make our supply chains even faster while also making them climate neutral. The drone is an ideal solution in many different situations. In Norway, for example, trucks or helicopters are necessary for supplying some of the country's fjords and offshore islands. Now, the eco-friendly VoloDrone can be used to move certain items faster – medication for local hospitals, for example. City deliveries are another field where the cargo drone can play to its strengths: It can get freight to locations that are out of bounds to diesel vehicles due to restrictions.
Before it can become part of DB Schenker's fleet, the drone has to complete a wide range of checks, include static tests at our site in Nuremberg. They are called static because the drone isn't airborne – instead, it remains on the ground so we can assess the optimum way to load it. Certification from EASA, the European Union's aviation safety authority, is necessary before we can use the drone, first in unmanned areas and then in urban regions.
When the VoloDrone passes all of these tests, it will take its place at DB Schenker's bases, enabling us to further reduce noise and pollutant emissions in the logistics sector.
The ammonia-hydrogen engine for green propulsion
Deutsche Bahn will be climate neutral by 2040. However, since renewable power cannot be used to transport freight and passengers to every destination, we are currently working on green solutions to run our existing diesel fleet. To this end, we are collaborating with the Australian energy group Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) on a research project to develop a new drive technology, namely the ammonia-hydrogen engine.
The ammonia-hydrogen engine is based on an existing type of internal combustion engine modified to run on green ammonia and green hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources. The advantage of an ammonia-hydrogen engine over a pure hydrogen engine is that liquid ammonia has a higher energy density per volume than liquid hydrogen, which, in turn, delivers greater ranges. Liquid ammonia is also easier to transport and store.
The key enabling technology of the new engine is a cracker from the Stuttgart-based company Ammonigy, which is installed directly on the vehicle and splits a small part of the ammonia outside the engine into hydrogen and nitrogen. The resulting hydrogen is then mixed with the remaining ammonia as an ignition gas, ensuring stable CO2-free combustion. A first prototype of the engine for rail vehicles is currently being tested on an engine test rig. Together with our partners, we will continue to develop this technology by putting the engine through its paces with endurance tests and emission measurements.
Since the availability of green ammonia and green hydrogen is still limited, we are also working within the scope of the project to expand global supply chains of both energy sources. As a hydrogen producer, FFI wishes to sell the energy source worldwide in the future in the form of green ammonia. We are also testing a variety of solutions for the use of hydrogen. Since we could potentially become a high-consumption user of both in the future, DB Cargo is currently developing efficient and green logistics solutions for the eco-friendly transportation of hydrogen and ammonia.