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Canadian rail giants CN and CP are testing battery and hydrogen locomotives in a step toward zero-emissions electric freight rail. At least one smaller railway, the British Columbia Southern Railway, is working on hydrogen locomotive technology as well. Here’s a look at why it’s electric and the technologies it’s testing.
Why is the industry moving towards electricity?
Although the transportation sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after oil and gas, the Rail Association of Canada says that only railroads generate 3.5 percent of transport emissions.
However, given Canada’s ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions, even those that need to be eliminated, said Giuseba Petronic, president and CEO of the Canadian Consortium for Urban Transport Research and Innovation. She said rail companies now face pressure from both governments and shareholders to reduce emissions, especially now that the price of carbon is expected to rise over time — and with it, the price of diesel powering Canadian trains.
said Petronik, who co-authored 2020 Railroad innovation report in Canada.
Gord Lovegrove, associate professor of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, agreed that there is increasing pressure from stakeholders on rail to tackle climate change.
“That is why [electrification] It takes place before any federal regulation.”
But he noted that diesel trains also generate a lot of other pollutants harmful to human health. These include nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter, as well as sulfur dioxide associated with acid rain.
In urban areas, these pollutants and noise from locomotives can be huge Inconvenience near switch yards, where railway cars are stored, loaded, unloaded and strapped together. Lovegrove said the small locomotives that drive cars in these rail yards represent only a fraction of the Canadian locomotive fleet, but they can generate double or triple the long-range locomotive engine emissions.
He said the British Columbia government had begun imposing fines on older, more polluting locomotives. But it has promised to return the last three years’ fines to British Columbia’s Southern Railroad, if it retrofits its locomotives to include zero-emissions technology.
“So they not only realize reduced fuel costs, reduce public complaints [but] “They’re getting the money back to fund their business cause,” Lovegrove said.
In the long term, he said, given climate and pollution concerns, rail companies need to generate electricity “because diesel will be wiped out of existence”.
CN . Battery Electric Locomotive Project
CN Railroad, headquartered in Montreal, announced in november They purchased a Wabtec FLXdrive, a heavyweight battery-powered freight locomotive. The company has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 29 percent by 2030 compared to 2015 — and achieving net zero by 2050.
Janet Drysdale, CN Rail’s vice president of sustainability, said 85 percent of the company’s emissions are generated by its diesel locomotives.
“So solving this driving problem is very important to us.”
The plan is to test it on a small, isolated track near Wabtec’s headquarters in Erie, Pennsylvania. The company received funding from that state for the pilot.
This particular locomotive was tested in California in 2021. But Drysdale said since CN operates in Canada, one of the things to test is how the battery is affected by the cold.
Electric battery-powered locomotives have been tested in train yards, but pilot CN/Wabtec will also conduct freight-pull tests on the main line.
CN said the electric locomotive, which will work with up to six other locomotives, could reduce emissions by up to 30 percent on roads that terrain allows it to partially recharge the battery using regenerative braking. Regenerative braking recovers some of the energy used to slow the car and converts it into electricity.
Going forward, Gina Trombley, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Wabtec, said companies expect most recharging to take place via overhead wires and pantographs, similar to those used by trams, while loading at low speed at locations such as grain terminals.
“For the fully electric locomotives to be fully operational, you will have to find a way to charge on the go,” she added.
Trombley said the CN project is still in the design phase, but the two companies believe they will operate the locomotive in the second half of 2023.
CP and Southern Rail for British Columbia hydrogen locomotive projects
Canadian Pacific, based in Calgary Announced in December 2020 It plans to develop the first hydrogen-powered freight locomotive in North America. Nearly a year later, she said she’s expanding the program from one locomotive to three locomotives after receiving a $15 million grant from the Alberta government. The fuel cells for the first locomotive were delivered by Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems in January. Structures and logistics company ATCO Group announced this week that it has reached an agreement to build two hydrogen production and refueling plants, one each at CP’s rail yards in Calgary and Edmonton.
CP is excited to share a video of his fully coated hydrogen locomotive – powered by its own power! The project team is now preparing for field testing with H2OEL. This is a significant achievement of CP’s hydrogen locomotive programme. #sustainable leadership pic.twitter.com/M5njG3nJOZ
CB declined to be interviewed for this article, but in an interview on Ballard’s website published in September, CB’s chief engineer Kyle Mulligan said initial trials are expected between Calgary and Lethbridge.
Kate Charlton, Ballard’s vice president of investor relations, said the company’s fuel cells are already running passenger trams in China and are being tested for passenger rail with Siemens in Germany. But those required to transport goods are almost twice as large.
However, it said the fuel cells are similar in size to the diesel engine currently used to power the train’s electric powertrain.
“So they pulled the diesel engine and replaced it with a fuel cell,” Charlton said.
She added that refueling times should be similar.
Mulligan told Ballard that CB plans to roll out the hydrogen fueling infrastructure “in conjunction with our existing diesel fueling operations sites.”
Charlton, who works closely with CP, said the company expects to commission hydrogen locomotives in 2023.
Meanwhile, the BC New Westminster South Railway, a short railway, announced last year It has been converting one of its diesel-electric-to-hydrogen-electric conversion locomotives, in partnership with fuel cell manufacturer Loop Energy and hydrogen storage company Hydrogen in Motion. The locomotive was called the “Green Goat”. Lovegrove and his group are involved in research and development for this project.
Fuel cells and batteries are coming this summer and fall, Lovegrove said, and the system will be tested over the next year or two.
Why are they testing different technologies? Is there someone who is likely to dominate?
There are operational reasons why CP and CN believe their projects make sense. For example, CN says it has an ideal testing site near Wabtec’s headquarters in Pennsylvania, and that state is offering some financial support.
CP’s Mulligan said the company chose hydrogen because “the electric battery requires recharging which can take time — from our current, diesel-powered process — we don’t necessarily have a dependence on that,” according to Ballard’s interview.
However, it can roll out hydrogen fuel at its Ogden solar farm, and there are natural gas refineries in the Edmonton area that can produce hydrogen.
There is only a small group of railroads and suppliers in the industry, Drysdale said. “So what we want to avoid is that we all experience the same things, right?”
Across North America, different rail companies are testing different technologies for different applications and in different local conditions.
“All of this work is going to benefit all of us in the end,” Drysdale said.
The batteries, Lovegrove said, “are going to be constant all the time” — whether they’re charged by hydrogen fuel cells or some other way.
However, it is believed that hydrogen will be an essential technology when transporting heavy loads over long distances.
Petronic said it expects to have a mix of battery-powered, hydrogen and electric locomotives.
“There will be these switch locomotives and many regional railroads that would make sense mostly with batteries alone,” she said, and then others where hydrogen should be the answer because [of] Not just range but fuel availability.”
She described the CN and CP projects as “small steps in the right direction”.
“But these small steps will essentially end there unless there is a very large effort to build both electrical capacity across the country for this purpose, as well as the hydrogen supply chain,” she added.