Genesee and Wyoming to test hydrogen and biogas locomotive in Britain

One of Freightliner’s 113 Class 66 locomotives will be converted to run on a blend of diesel, hydrogen and biogas fuels. One of the few in the G&W-branded fleet passes Manchester Deansgate station on July 30, 2020, on an intermodal train. (Keith Fender)

LEEDS, England – UK freight operator Freightliner, owned by Genesee & Wyoming since 2015, has secured UK government funding to convert a diesel locomotive to run on hydrogen and biogas.

Funds for the conversion of one of Freightliner’s 113 Class 66 locomotives built by EMD come from a UK Government’s FOAK (First of a Kind) competition, designed to test new ideas and concepts for companies in transport.

The project will use technology from the specialist company Clean Air Power, which has developed precision injection technology to use alternative fuel in existing engines; the company has offices in England and California. The Class 66 locomotive will be fitted with injection technology, allowing the existing 12-cylinder EMD 710 engine to run on a combination of diesel, biogas (biomethane) or hydrogen.

The project has several other major participants, including UK rail infrastructure company Network Rail, construction company Tarmac, industrial gas company Flogas and the University of Birmingham. The UK regulator Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) will also be involved, as the project could lead to more widespread use of the technology. Exhaust gas emissions will be measured according to the latest RSSB guidelines to understand the baseline conditions and the impact of dual fuel for hydrogen and biogas. All conversion work, static testing and collection of emissions data will be carried out at Freightliner’s maintenance workshop in Leeds, in the north of England.

Over 650 Class 66 locomotives were built by EMD (type JT42CWR) in London, Ontario, and Muncie, Indiana, between 1998 and 2015, primarily for UK and European operators. Class 66s are currently responsible for carrying around 80% of all rail freight in Britain.

Finding alternatives to diesel fuel has become a major problem in Europe as governments pledge to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions; the UK government has pledged to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions in the entire economy by 2050. Most rail industry experts believe this can only be achieved by large-scale electrification of freight routes. Some parts of the grid will never justify full electrification, so hybrid motive power will have a long-term role.

Other hydrogen locomotives planned

Several other European railway manufacturers are considering hydrogen as a fuel for switch engines. In the UK, an old British Rail Class 08 shunting locomotive built in the 1960s is being rebuilt as a test bed by start-up Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, in collaboration with the rail transport department of the University of Birmingham. The Harrier HydroShunter project will replace the existing 350 hp diesel engine with hydrogen fuel cells to power the existing traction motors. Work is underway on the Severn Valley Railway tourist line, near Birmingham, and trials are scheduled there later in 2021.

In Poland, railway engineering company Pesa has announced plans to refurbish locomotives using a mixture of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries. The rebuilt 800 hp SM42 class, due to debut later this year, is designed to pull trains up to 3,500 tonnes. Its on-board tanks can store 385 pounds of hydrogen, powering two 114 hp fuel cells. The Pesa locomotive will also be equipped with regenerative braking powering its lithium-titanate-oxide traction batteries.

In Russia, Russian Railways (RZD) and engineering company Sinara have agreed to build prototype hydrogen locomotives by 2024. RZD has announced that from 2025 it will no longer purchase locomotives diesel engine.

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