HydroFLEX and the team behind it's development

The partnership between Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) at the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook to develop the world's first retro-fitted hydrogen train has been recognised by the Guardian as ‘an outstanding university partnership with a business or an industry – regional, national or international – where knowledge is applied, and resources shared for the benefit of the broader economy.’

 The agreement, which was formalised in 2018, between the University and Porterbrook produced the award-winning collaborative research and innovation project between industry and academia by combining education and research within one sector-focused Centre.

In just two years, the partnership has resulted in a working, converted Thameslink electric train which is powered solely by Hydrogen. With the working demonstrator train, the University secured £350,000 funding from Innovate UK and the Department for Transport's First of a Kind competition for mainline testing, which took place in September 2020. Porterbrook has announced plans to start putting HydroFLEX into production in response to customer demand.

Mary Grant, CEO of Porterbrook, said:

“We are delighted that our University of Birmingham partners have won the Guardian’s Business Collaboration Award for our pioneering hydrogen train, HydroFLEX. The work we have done together has been ground-breaking in terms of zero-emissions transport. At Porterbrook we take our responsibility for de-carbonising the railways very seriously and this award only bolsters our motivation to keep innovating.”

Work on the next stage of HydroFLEX is already well advanced at the University with a hydrogen and battery power module in development that can be fitted underneath the production version of the train to create increased capacity for passengers in the train's saloon area. The University of Birmingham remains at forefront of innovation in the hydrogen supply chain in the UK, an area forecast to grow to worth of £1.6m per day, with global impact.

Alex Burrows, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, says:

“The whole project team is absolutely thrilled to have won this award.  This is fantastic recognition of the partnership we developed and the approach we took of establishing a diverse team from the University and Porterbrook.  The HydroFLEX project has been a real career highlight for everyone involved and this award is hugely pleasing in recognising the efforts of everyone on the team.”

The University of Birmingham partners with all sizes and sectors of business to innovate and has a dedicated account management team to ensure maximum impact for all.


In their eighth year, The Guardian University awards celebrate the inspirational, ground-breaking projects from UK universities and represent the best of the sector. 

From clinical trials and advanced manufacturing, through to business consultancy and cybersecurity, learn more about partnering with the University of Birmingham.