Germany will begin using the world’s first hydrogen-powered, zero-emission train, set to open to the public in December of 2017. The train will not run on electric train lines, but instead will serve as an alternative to the country’s 4,000 diesel engines. Lower Saxony has ordered 14 of the trains, which are produced by the French firm Alstom. 20 percent of all rail traffic in Europe is carried over these diesel lines. The new train uses the same equipment and infrastructure as the diesel trains, but uses a new, cleaner method of generating power.

More areas of Germany are likely to order the trains if they are successful there. The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway have also expressed interest in purchasing these trains.

The zero-emission passenger train was unveiled at the InnoTrans trade show in Berlin, last August. Called the Coradia iLint, the train emits only steam into the atmosphere. It will be the first hydrogen powered train to transport passengers long distances. The first “hydrail” will run on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony, beginning at the end of this year. It is a relatively short route, running only about 60 miles.

The iLint uses massive lithium ion batteries which receive their energy from a hydrogen fuel tank on the train’s roof. It can travel nearly 500 miles per day at 87 miles per hour, on one tank of hydrogen fuel. Each train will carry as many as 300 passengers. The train gives off no sound, except for that of the wheels and air resistance. Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said in statement:

“Alstom is proud to launch a breakthrough innovation in the field of clean transportation. It shows our ability to work in close collaboration with our customers and develop a train in only two years.”

Hyrdrogen power burns liquid hydrogen, mixing it with oxygen, to produce high quantities of energy, with water and steam as the only byproduct. Nasa has used hydrogen power for its rockets since the 1970s – with rocket launches now emitting a huge cloud of steam, rather than an explosion.

While the 87 miles per hour speed is considerably lower than many of Europe’s fastest trains, it will serve shorter and less traveled routes that have not yet been converted to electric track, which are still relying on the diesel engines.

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