Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and the third most common element on Earth. It also might be the key to unlocking the decarbonization of a sector that gets relatively little climate-adaptation press coverage: rail transportation.
Now there’s a reason that railways (or railroads as our American neighbours to the south like to call them) get so little press when it comes to the climate crisis. As legacy industries go, rail is already relatively efficient from an emissions perspective.
“Each year, Canada’s railways move tens of millions of passengers and 70 per cent of all intercity freight, while producing just 1.1 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And only 3.8 per cent of the country’s transportation sector GHG emissions.”
Still, in late 2020, CPKC – formerly known as Canadian Pacific Railway or CPR – became one of the first of the class-1 North American railways to begin development of a line-haul hydrogen-powered locomotive pilot. (Class-1 railways are the largest in North America, each with annual revenues over $250M USD per year. Line-haul refers to the movement of trains between cities/towns rather than lighter in-yard switching work).
CPKC’s 2020 embrace of hydrogen ran nearly parallel to the release of the Government of Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy, which, in a section on transportation, noted:
“High profile, medium- and heavy-duty fuel cell electric vehicle pilot projects will help raise awareness and best practices for pilot deployments of zero-emissions vehicles for goods and people movement in all sectors: on-road, rail, marine, and aviation.”
Since 2020, CPKC has expanded its hydrogen locomotive program with additional locomotives and hydrogen production/fuelling facilities. In 2022, the railway first used a hydrogen-powered locomotive to make a revenue run, which brought the technology one step closer to replacing a diesel engine in the company’s locomotive fleet.
So the technology is gaining traction here in Canada. But you may have some questions, so we’ve got answers.
How do hydrogen locomotives work?
This is an obvious question.
For our answer let’s go to TWI, a globally-known independent research and technology firm:
“Current technology focuses on the use of hydrogen fuel cells, which generate electricity using a chemical reaction between two electrodes… Hydrogen acts as the fuel in the cell with the addition of oxygen, generating electrical energy.
The technique used to obtain the hydrogen has an impact on how environmentally friendly the hydrogen is. Steam reforming, for example, uses harmful fossil fuels, while electrolysis using renewable energy electricity or excess power from the Grid creates no carbon emissions.”
Still a bit too complicated? It’s basically this: when combined, hydrogen, and oxygen react to produce electricity, which powers the locomotive.
But you need to get the hydrogen to begin with. You can do that by using fossil fuels or renewable energy. Obviously, by using renewable energy you avoid creating emissions in your production of hydrogen, making the whole system cleaner and greener. It’s also why this kind of hydrogen is commonly referred to as ‘green hydrogen.’
What would be the benefits of railways switching to hydrogen-powered locomotives?
There are three key benefits to note.
The first is that a hydrogen-powered locomotive fleet would not require modifying the track infrastructure already in place to take advantage of traditional approaches to electrification. For railways with thousands of miles of track, that’s a huge benefit. In fact, hydrogen is, as of now, the only feasible choice.
Of course, there would still be the need to build out hydrogen filling stations along main routes, which is nothing CPKC or any other class-1 now piloting hydrogen locomotives has done to date. But those costs are nothing compared to full electrification of the roughly 170,000 miles of freight rail in North America.
A second benefit is that hydrogen locomotives run more quietly than their diesel counterparts. Smaller perhaps as benefits go but it’s still of value, especially because rail lines often run close to where people live and work.
It’s the third benefit that’s the massive one. Hydrogen-powered locomotives emit only water — a game changer for rail transportation. Regardless of how the hydrogen is obtained, to run a train from Vancouver to Montreal without emitting CO2?
That’s an extraordinary opportunity for the industry and the country.
How long will it take for railways to replace diesel locomotives with hydrogen locomotives?
This is the (multi) billion-dollar question. And while this is a highly promising technology, it’s not clear that hydrogen will be the answer to the rail industry’s decarbonization aspirations. One reason is that hydrogen’s lack of energy density makes it more challenging to deploy it at scale in locomotives, because it must be stored as a liquid at temperatures of 250°C or less or at pressures of 5,000-1000 psi (which is hundreds of times greater than Earth’s atmospheric pressure). Neither is an easy or cost-effective task.
Of course that’s all based on current technology. Which will improve over time.
And of course this isn’t the first time in history the rail industry has looked at shifting its locomotive power sources.
The railway industry has been around approximately 200 years, with the diesel locomotive being the industry standard since it replaced the steam engine in the early 1940s.
Diesel locomotives actually originally appeared in the 1920s. They were used for lighter duty railcar switching and passenger duty before they became robust enough to haul freight. That’s a twenty-ish year gap between launch and broad adoption. It’s worth noting because it may tell us something about the length of time necessary for an innovative new technology to become an industry standard, and drive down overall sector emissions.
There also remain significant questions about hydrogen locomotive performance, particularly for railways that operate in adverse weather conditions. As the old rail-industry adage goes, ‘railroading is an outdoor sport.’
“The next step is scalability,” Creel says, through partnering with a customer that can build enough road locomotives to prove the technology on the rugged CP main line in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary.
“It’s the perfect test bed. If you can operate there — heavy haul, cold temperatures, the most challenging operational conditions I’ve ever experienced in my career … it will work anywhere,” Creel says.
What’s happening with hydrogen-powered trains in Europe? Don’t Europeans love trains?
They sure do.
So, it’s no surprise that in parts of Europe some passenger trains are already being converted to hydrogen-powered locomotives. The sheer mass of heavy freight rail trains vs. lighter passenger rail trains makes it almost inevitable that hydrogen locomotives will consistently move people before they consistently move goods.
Alstom, a French company that makes rolling stock (meaning locomotives or other types of railcars/tank cars/other cars that make up trains), recently announced that it has helped create the first fully hydrogen-fueled passenger train route in Germany. The company also has contracts for hydrogen trains (or ‘hydrail’) in both Italy and France. So the technology is rolling out on the continent.
And the US is close behind. American rolling stock manufacturer Stadler Rail will be producing a hydrogen-powered passenger train that will begin operating in San Bernardino, CA in 2024.
So, what’s happening now? And what’s happening next?
One way to predict the transition to renewable energy-powered locomotives is to look at how we’re transitioning to renewable energy-powered cars. Many consumers aren’t jumping directly from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, they’re bridging the gap with a hybrid car.
That’s happening in the rail sector too.
In February of this year, the US Department of Energy announced it was partnering with rail technology company Wabtec to “develop a hybrid locomotive engine that can run on both hydrogen and diesel.” Freightways reports that:
“The project… will run for four years and consist of two phases. Phase one will be development of the hybrid engine and phase two will create new hardware that would serve as the next generation of locomotive engines to be gradually introduced into the marketplace.”
Meanwhile, in Quebec, another Alstom hydrogen passenger train will make its inaugural run this summer as a first step into the North American market.
In fact, there are almost too many instances of hydrogen train pilots and deployments around the world to keep track of them all.
The technology is driving investment, and excitement, even amongst the most senior, seasoned executives.
Keith Creel again, in November 2022:
“To see [a hydrogen locomotive] two weeks ago, running down the main line at main line speed pulling a load behind it, I mean it made the hairs on my arm stand up because I would have told you two years ago it’s a pipe dream … Well, it’s not a pipe dream. It’s a reality. Still a lot of work left to do, but it’s super, super exciting.”
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
AI, financing, and green skilling hot climate topics at the UN’s COP28 UAE
A look into trending climate topics for this year’s UAE-hosted COP28 climate summit
COP28 is the 28th annual Conference of Parties (COP), an international climate summit held as an international treaty of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the summit runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 and will be hosting world government leaders, scientists, researchers, and experts. Here, they’ll discuss and address current issues that hurt the environment, like heat waves, sea levels rising, global warming, and more.
First item on the docket? An assessment of global climate progress since COP21 — an assessment known as the first Global Stocktake (GST).
What kind of progress? Let’s rewind eight years for a recap:
The 2015 Paris Agreement was adopted at COP21, hosted in Paris, where 194 countries (195 including the European Union) committed to keeping global temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally 1.5 degrees.
Still, last year’s COP27 had countries butting heads about phasing out fossil fuels. Of course, most of the world is on board, save for some of the biggest fossil fuel producers like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
This year, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber is adamantly advocating action that keeps the world well below the 1.5-degree increase, and that includes capturing fossil fuel emissions, but not disqualifying them completely.
Here are a few event topics on the docket at COP28:
- Cleantech and AI: The road to net-zero is pathed almost completely with innovative tech like digital twin technology, the internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, AI, satellite mapping, and other tech types that the conference will speak to.
- Upskilling and education: With the rise of green and cleantech as long-standing climate solutions, the labour force needs to keep up with all the technical skills required to operate and develop the technology. COP28 has a few panels and lectures about sustainable digital skills, green skills, and sustainability leadership initiatives for youth and students.
- Financing: Developing countries are in more need of financing than ever to come close to reaching their climate goals. Various panels discuss inclusive finance architecture, the role of philanthropy, tech startups, family offices, organic waste removal, affordable tech, and digital private-public relationships for climate financing.
Interested in learning more about the panels, topics, or schedule?
Check out the COP28 UAE website for more details.
Veronica Ott is a freelance writer and digital marketer with a specialization in finance and business. As a CPA with experience in the industry, she’s able to provide unique insight into various monetary, financial and economic topics. When Veronica isn’t writing, you can find her watching the latest films!
mesh conference hits Toronto next week — here’s what’s in store
In one week, innovators and digital transformation leaders from across North America will gather at the Symes in Toronto for the mesh conference.
In one week, innovators and digital transformation leaders from across North America will gather at the Symes in Toronto for the mesh conference. With a focus on four threads — business, media and technology, society, and marketing — mesh will connect, share, and inspire others to think about changing how we think, organize, operate and behave.
The mesh conference differs from your typical transformation and innovation event in part thanks to two simple rules: no slide decks and canned presentations, and no pay-to-play sessions. The result? Lively sessions where the audience is encouraged to engage with speakers throughout.
The theme for this edition is “Human-powered, tech-enabled.” Speakers and attendees will explore the pivotal role of technologies in augmenting human capabilities to improve workplace diversity, enhance competitiveness, and even turn back time on human-induced environmental damage through “de-extinction”.
The full mesh speaker lineup
Over the course of two days, more than 20 speakers will take part in the Toronto event on December 6-7, 2023. The full run-of-show, with speakers and sessions, includes:
Canada’s digital policy has gone off the rails. What should the engaged community be doing?
Dr. Michael Geist (Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, University of Ottawa) will join Tyler Chisholm (clearmotive marketing) to discuss the Meta ban on news, Google’s newly announced search policy around news (backed by $100 million for the industry) and podcasting regulations. Dr. Geist will explain why he has described the law as a “total policy disaster” and an “epic policy blunder” by the government. On the heels of his testimony before the CRTC, he’ll share his insights on what we might expect next and what engaged communities should be doing. Gain a greater understanding of the policy landscape and its impact on how we live and work.
Leveraging AI to create a more diverse and inclusive tech industry
Marissa McNeelands (CEO of Toast) will be joined by Elena Yunusov (Human Feedback Foundation) to discuss how her company works to eliminate gender bias in tech hiring. TOAST, Canada’s first female-focused talent partner, uses a unique AI-driven recruitment tool to help organizations diversify their tech teams and support women in tech careers. This session will explore the role that data and algorithms could play in fostering a more inclusive workforce.
AI, Creativity, and Inclusivity: Empowering Tomorrow’s Marketing Leaders
This panel explores how AI and creativity can foster economic empowerment through tech skills training and career growth. The panel will delve into the impact of AI on marketing, the importance of diversity and inclusivity in its design, and the role of continuous education. The session aims to understand economic empowerment through tech skills training, career growth, and a nurturing environment. Features Natalie Black (Mia), Liberty White (CHOZEN MEDIA), Prieeyya Kaur Kesh (Mia), and Anne-Marie Enns (Mia)
Innovating for Canada’s Competitive Edge
Join Dana O’Born (Council of Canadian Innovators), Tracey Bodnarchuk (Canada Powered by Women), and Stuart MacDonald (Narrative Fund) as they discuss the future of Canadian competitiveness through the lens of innovation and transformation. This session will explore the technology and energy industries and why innovation is a team sport. Looking at both growing and transitioning sectors, they will explore how Canada can leverage its strengths and overcome challenges to maintain a competitive edge in the global market and create a sustainable, prosperous future.
Why ‘de-extinction’ is vital to fighting climate change
Join Ben Lamm (CEO of Colossal) and Chris Hogg (DJG) for a riveting discussion on de-extinction and its role in combating climate change. Could the woolly mammoth, the Tasmanian tiger, and the dodo bird be agents of change? Learn about Colossal’s groundbreaking work in reviving extinct species and how this contributes to biodiversity restoration. We will delve into the technology behind halting extinction, preserving animal DNA, and reversing human-induced environmental damage. Explore how de-extinction can restore lost ecosystems, increase biodiversity, and contribute to environmental sustainability. This session promises to spark insightful discussions on the future of biotech and environmental conservation.
AI in Marketing: Magic Wand, Double-Edged Sword or Pandora’s Box
Darnel Moore will explore customer marketing strategies in the context of AI. We will delve into how AI can personalize content at scale and analyze customer behaviour while highlighting the importance of human insight and intervention in marketing. Have we crossed the line when the computer tracks, predicts and influences customer behaviours? Where and when is it best to deploy machine learning and AI in your marketing strategy? At what point in the process is it still best for humans to drive the process? How do we ensure that AI supports the customer journey and that the tools we deploy do not undermine an authentic, transparent relationship? Join us as we aspire to find where the balance is best placed between AI tools and human intention, avoid repeating the mistakes of social media and aim to harness the power of AI responsibly.
The Almighty AI: Friend or Foe for the Sustainability Agenda?
While headlines are dominated by the thrill and alarm of the rise in Artificial Intelligence applications and utility across industries, they have overshadowed another existential hot topic: Sustainability and ESG. This fireside chat will examine AI’s role in the Sustainability agenda for communities, businesses, and national states, and in what ways leaders across sectors are taking action today for impact tomorrow. We might even imagine new kinds of futures where artificial and collective intelligence collide in this unique chat forum. Features Amy Peck (EndeavorXR) and Rika Nakazawa (NTT).
Amplifying Community Actions: Case Study of the Second Harvest Food Rescue App
Lori Nikkel (CEO of Second Harvest) and Winston Rosser (VP, Second Harvest) will join Mark Evans (Marketing Spark) to discuss their innovative approach to combating food waste and insecurity, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. They’ll share how their technology platform has facilitated partnerships between food donors and non-profits, enabling them to scale the redistribution of surplus food from coast to coast to coast. Learn about the increased efficiency that allowed them to connect 5,600 donors with 3,400 non-profits–rescuing 24 million pounds of food, averting 79.3 million pounds of greenhouse gases, and saving 13.2 billion litres of water in the last year alone.
AI & Procurement: The Intersection of Innovation, Risk and Law
Join Colleen Pound (CEO of Proxure), Mary Jane Dykeman (INQ Law) and David Potter (Vog) for an enlightening session on the transformative role of AI and technology in professional services. They will delve into how these tools are levelling the playing field, particularly in procurement and legal services. Colleen, with her expertise in automation and predictive analytics, will shed light on procuring AI solutions. Mary Jane, a seasoned health and data lawyer, will discuss the legal and risk management aspects of AI adoption. This session promises a rich blend of insights from the tech startup and healthcare sectors.
Digital Journal is an official media partner of the mesh conference. Learn more and get tickets to the mesh conference, happening December 6-7 in Toronto, at meshconference.com
Hong Kong FinTech Week 2023: How AI is redefining fintech
Experts gathered to discuss how AI is having a “transformative” impact on fintech and how to adapt for the future.
Within the rapidly evolving fintech landscape, and AI as the newest Holy Grail of tech, experts explored how these two topics intersected at the eighth annual FinTech Week in Hong Kong. This year’s theme was “Fintech Redefined,” bringing together leaders of innovation, technology, and finance.
Organized by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, InvestHK, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Insurance Authority (IA), the conference ran from Nov. 2 to 3, attracting 30,000 attendees, with more than 500 exhibitors.
In the session “Beyond the Hype: The Real Impact of AI in Fintech” Stephen Choi, co-founder and CTO of trading platform Asklora, said they use generative AI in financial advisory, adding that AI has had, and will have, a transformative impact on fintech.
“This is where all of the investments are going, especially in the US,” he said, noting that some larger firms are dedicating their teams to tackling the first line of interaction to track the signals back from the client.
Prompting the AI with, “Can you say this in a more human-like manner, and then talk to the user?” is getting them the result.
“So it’s not the robotic chat-bot that we’ve been seeing for the last five years,” he said.
Adapting responsibly to AI and tech advancements
Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, spoke on the topic of rethinking artificial intelligence, asserting that it’s imperative to govern how it’s being used.
“You can use it to spread disinformation, to build a bomb and plan the next 9/11,” he said. “We need guardrails, so regulation is needed. It’s two wheels moving forward — one is regulation to protect people and enforce government laws, and then let technologists teach AI platforms not to say things that could hurt people.”
The session “New Technology Frontiers: How AI will Disrupt the Financial Service Industry” also dealt with security issues facing AI.
Wendy Wong, global chief information officer at HSBC noted: “This AI trend has been dropping like a storm. No tech has been adopted so fast. There’s so much experimenting — so many people doing things. At HSBC bank we have a thousand test cases. But we’re also putting in framework and governance to make sure we’re using it responsibly.”
Meanwhile, Nikhil Rathi, chief executive of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, said the recent UK AI Safety Summit was important.
“We need wide collaboration on the benefits and risks, that will require global regulations to avert a potential increase in flash crashes,” he said.
Rathi ended with a prediction: “We can expect every twelve months, some kind of disruptive change, the way we organize our institutions, or the way the market behaves. Our workforce will need to constantly reskill and that will be fundamental.”
Where AI can add value for B2Bs looking to make a digital transformation
During the “Fireside Chat with the Pioneers” session, leaders of global Web3 companies discussed the decentralised fintech market and what lies ahead. Presenter and attendee Steve Rosenblum, founder of Libertify.com, said that AI for B2Bs can lead to increased efficiency and enhanced customer experience, depending on the company’s goals.
“Your company needs to determine where AI can add value; for example, automating repetitive tasks, and productivity improvement,” he said. “Maybe this will save the economy in the long run. If we look at the past hundred years, the world [becomes] better when it improves productivity.”
Libertify is a software-as-a-service platform that, using AI, touts itself as helping “personalize actionable investment decisions, based on users’ risk profiles, aiming to minimize drawdowns, and optimize portfolio performance.” Rosenblum added that these insights “neutralize the cognitive biases – that is, eliminates human emotions, and risk-manages the portfolio.” The information is then distilled, and presented through video content.
“Now it’s mainly processing documents, with CRM, from the supply chain, to make the right decisions quicker,” he said.
Given his experience in new technology, he recommended B2Bs train employees on AI concepts and tools — further suggesting that companies design AI solutions with scalability in mind to accommodate growing data volumes and user demands.
“Building an AI-ready workforce is crucial,” he said. “This will help employees understand the technology and its implications on their roles.”
Importance of taking risks
In the final analysis, Rosenblum said he believes the Asia-Pacific region may outpace other parts of the world in AI in the foreseeable future, owing to the abundance of caution demonstrated by other parts of the world.
“We can see the real difference in speed between Asia and Europe. You [can easily] meet the C-level guys in Asia, you can access them quicker, and it’s a quick yes-no for a pitch. Within a week, we got a lot of interest, versus things that would have taken me over six months in France. The pace of business in Hong Kong is much quicker,” he said.
“They want to implement innovations, but in Europe they are much more conservative. Probably because the financial sector is so regulated and slows down things, at the end of the day, because it’s about risk-taking, and no one really likes risk-taking.”
He said the conference had a high level of focus on digital assets, which include CBDCs, stablecoins, tokenization of securities and NFTs.
“The energy and innovation in Asia for digital assets enterprises is high,” he said. “The conference allowed me to meet with many investors and industry partners to drive awareness of our Australian dollar-backed stablecoin.”
As many speakers attested, game-changing opportunities are afoot for fintech with regards to business growth. True to the conference’s theme “Redefining Fintech,” the combination of artificial intelligence and Web3 technologies are revolutionizing every aspect of business.
Dave is a journalist whose work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets around the world, including BBC, National Post, Washington Times, Globe and Mail, New York Times, Baltimore Sun.
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