California funding hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive

By Jack Burke24 March 2021

Part of hydrogen initiative

The California Energy Commission has awarded GTI and Sierra Northern Railway nearly US$4 million to fund the design, integration, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive to support the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Demonstrations in Rail and Marine Applications at Ports (H2RAM) initiative.

The California Energy Commission awarded nearly US$4 million to fund the design, integration, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive.

Research organization GTI and Sierra Northern Railway will lead the project, which is designed to support the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Demonstrations in Rail and Marine Applications at Ports (H2RAM) initiative. 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. The demonstration will facilitate the improvement of local air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise and odor.

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. Most switcher locomotives in California use an average of 50 000 gal. per year per switcher, potentially leading to a reduction of more than 12 million gal. of diesel per year. This is approximately equivalent to the same amount of fuel used each year by 20 000 light-duty vehicles.

“The rail sector and goods movement in ports are challenging applications for low-carbon energy because they often require near-continuous operation and high power levels,” said 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.”

Sierra Northern Railway is the technical lead and has partnered with GTI as the prime contractor to the California Energy Commission. The California Energy Commission is the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency. It funded the demonstration project through its Natural Gas Research Program

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