California Energy Commission Awards Funding to Demonstrate Hydrogen Locomotive for Rail Applications in California

March 24, 2021
Des Plaines, IL

The California Energy Commission has awarded GTI and Sierra Northern Railway nearly $4,000,000 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 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.

Demonstration and validation of this technology will establish a platform for widespread commercialization in the immediate future. 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.

“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,” 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.”

“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.

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.

Southern California Gas Company is providing funding support to further California’s environmental objectives, as is the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative (LCRI)—a five-year effort, led by GTI and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), to develop and demonstrate clean energy technologies and advance low-carbon solutions in challenging applications.

Other technical partners are Railpower Tech LLC, Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems LLC, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

About GTI

GTI is a leading research, development and training organization that has been addressing global energy and environmental challenges by developing technology-based solutions for consumers, industry, and government for 80 years.

About Sierra North Railway

Sierra Northern Railway is the freight division of privately-owned, Sierra Railroad Company. Sierra Railroad Company is also the principal owner of Sierra Energy Corporation, which has developed a proprietary waste to clean hydrogen technology: FastOx® gasification. Sierra Northern Railway currently operates approximately 75 miles of track in Northern California, through the heart of a number of California's prime industrial areas, serving a wide variety of customers, and interchanging with both the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad.

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