Friday Fallback Story: California Energy Commission Awards Sierra Northern Railway Team nearly $4M to Build and Test Hydrogen Switcher Locomotive

By April 23, 2021 5   min read  (770 words)

April 23, 2021 |

Fuel cells works, hydrogen, california, energy, fuel cells

Sacramento, California – The California Energy Commission yesterday voted to award Sierra Northern Railway and GTI nearly $4,000,000 to fund the design, integration, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive at the Port of West Sacramento.

The locomotive will show the potential of hydrogen fuel-cell technology to reduce transportation air pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The funds will be used to retire a tier 0 diesel locomotive and to replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive using advanced hydrogen technology. The project involves the integration of advanced hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies to provide an alternative to less environmentally friendly diesel-powered locomotives. Upon completion, the new hydrogen-fueled, zero-emissions switcher locomotive will displace the need for up to 10,000 gallons of conventional diesel fuel per year. The demonstration will facilitate the improvement of local air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and odor.

The overall project goals and objectives are:

• To design a safe and reliable hydrogen fuel cell powered locomotive.

• To build the locomotive and demonstrate its operations in a real-world environment.

• To collect data during the demonstration period to provide insights into the performance, operations, and costs of this technology.

• To support commercialization activities to expand the use of hydrogen in the rail sector.

snr cec award art how its done snr loco f 031621

Demonstration and validation of this technology will establish a platform for widespread commercialization in the immediate future. Because locomotives are federally regulated, incentivizing railroads to implement new environmental technologies is challenging. The potential California market for new hydrogen locomotives includes more than 260 switcher locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives.

It is important for California to encourage the rail sector along with all of California’s transportation sectors, to decarbonize its operations to help achieve the State’s environmental goals. Short-line and switching locomotives account for a significant share of the total locomotive energy use within the State as they carry a significant portion of freight in California and operate on the first and last miles of the national freight network. This makes short-line operations an excellent testbed for the demonstration of zero-emission technologies. Most switcher locomotives in California use an average of 50,000 gallons per year per switcher potentially leading to a reduction of more than 12 million gallons of diesel per year. This is approximately equivalent to the same amount of fuel used each year by 20,000 light-duty vehicles.

“We are pleased to partner with this great team to build and test this innovative zero emission switching locomotive. We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions free pathway in all ports in the State of California.” Said Kennan H. Beard III, President of Sierra Northern Railway.

“We look forward to being able to provide leadership on this important State effort with this demonstration project,” Beard said.

“The rail sector and goods movement in ports are challenging applications for low-carbon energy because of they often require near-continuous operation and high power levels,” notes Ted Barnes, Director of R&D at GTI. “This project directly addresses those issues as we seek to advance technologies that can enable ports as high-throughput clusters for affordable, low-carbon hydrogen and achieve scaled demand across multiple applications.”

Adam Bennett, General Manager Railpower Tech LLC said “We are excited to be part of an ambitious plan to design, build, and operate a safe and dependable hydrogen-powered switch locomotive.”

Tim Sasseen, Ballard Sales Manager for California said, “We are excited to be working with Sierra Northern Railway toward demonstration of a fuel cell-powered switching locomotive at the Port of West Sacramento. This is another sign of increasing momentum in the deployment of zero-emission fuel cell propulsion solutions in the rail industry across numerous geographies, including North America. Fuel cells offer a compelling value proposition for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Motive applications, including rail, bus, truck and marine vessels, which we are keen to demonstrate for a switching locomotive, in addition to our work powering passenger and freight trains.”

“Valley Vision is excited to be part of the test hydrogen switcher locomotive team. We believe that our region should be an innovation test bed for new, clean transportation technologies and that this effort demonstrates the Capital region’s collaborative and dynamic capabilities. Advanced transportation technologies are a key component to meeting climate goals and also support an innovative regional economy.” Said Evan Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer of Valley Vision.

“OptiFuel Involvement with the Sierra Northern Railway’s team is a continuation of OptiFuel’s goal of decarbonizing the rail market over the next 15 years”, said Scott Myers, President of OptiFuel Systems.

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