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First U.S. hydrogen train to use Canadian fuel cells

Ballard Power Systems says any rail line served by a diesel locomotive can be converted to hydrogen power. (Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Ballard Power Systems says any rail line served by a diesel locomotive can be converted to hydrogen power. (Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Shares of Canadian fuel cell producer Ballard Power Systems (BLDP.TO)(BLDP) climbed on Monday after the company said the first hydrogen train in the United States is expected to enter service in 2024 using its technology.

Vancouver-based Ballard builds fuel cell solutions for trucks, buses, trains, and ships. The company announced an initial order of six fuel cell engines on Monday from Stadler Rail. The Swiss manufacturer is under contract to deliver a hydrogen-powered train capable of seating over 100 passengers to the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority in southern California.

Toronto-listed shares climbed 3.09 per cent to $9.00 as at 11:20 a.m. ET on Monday.

Ballard says nearly any train route served by a diesel locomotive can be served by a "hydrail train." The company's fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity, which is fed into batteries that power the train's motors. The vehicle's brakes capture excess energy, improving efficiency.

Last March, Ballard inked a deal with Canadian Pacific Railway (CP.TO)(CP) that was expanded earlier this year to a total of 14 fuel cell modules. The company recently announced a fuel cell order from a company contracted to develop India's first hydrogen-powered trains. It's also working with Germany's Siemens Mobility on a train fleet planned to be in service in the Berlin-Brandenburg region in late-2024.

Once a top-performing name on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Ballard shares surged in late-July amid investor excitement over the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which includes a massive climate spending component.

However, shares have fallen over 45 per cent year-to-date, due in part to recession fears and protracted COVID-19 lockdowns in China, where the company runs a manufacturing facility with its largest investor and strategic partner, Weichai Power.

In August, CEO Randy MacEwen said the company's latest quarterly results came in "softer than expected," citing weaker sales and tighter margins.

While Ballard has long pinned its hopes on China's energy transition, MacEwen calls the IRA legislation a "major catalyst" in the U.S., where the company has a small manufacturing footprint.

"It wasn't too long ago, maybe two years ago, where the U.S. market was not a high priority for us," MacEwen said on an Aug. 10 post-earnings call with analysts.

"That has clearly changed over the last year."

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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