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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / California Energy Commission awards $4 million for development of hydrogen fuel cell switcher

California Energy Commission awards $4 million for development of hydrogen fuel cell switcher

By | March 18, 2021

Sierra Northern, partners will develop, test replacement for diesel locomotive

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Yellow switcher locomotive
Yellow switcher locomotive
The California Energy Commission has awarded nearly $4 million for development of a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive for the Sierra Northern Railway (Sierra Northern Railway image)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The effort to develop alternative-fuel locomotives continues to gain momentum.

The California Energy Commission has awarded Sierra Northern Railway and research and development firm GTI almost $4 million to fund design, development, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered switching locomotive.

The funds will retire a Tier 0 diesel and replace it with a zero-emission switcher using a hydrogen fuel cell and advanced battery and systems control technologies to show the potential of such a system to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Most switchers use an average of 50,000 gallons per year of diesel fuel; widespread use of hydrogen technology could lead to a reduction of more than 12 million gallons per year, the same amount consumed 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,” Kennan H. Beard III, president of Sierra Northern Railway, said in a press release. Sierra Northern, the freight division of the Sierra Railway, operates 75 miles of track in Northern California. It is principal owner of Sierra Energy Corp, which has developed a proprietary waste-to-hydrogen technology.

Along with GTI, others involved in the effort are Railpower Tech, Ballard Power Systems, Optifuel Systems, the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, Southern California Gas Co., and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

The California effort comes as Canadian Pacific works to develop a hydrogen fuel cell road locomotive, using Ballard fuel cells [see “Canadian Pacific announces plans …,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 18, 2020]. And a battery-electric road locomotive developed by Wabtec in partnership with BNSF Railway is currently testing in California [see “Wabtec’s FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive begins revenue tests on BNSF,” News Wire, Jan. 4, 2021].

6 thoughts on “California Energy Commission awards $4 million for development of hydrogen fuel cell switcher

  1. Displacing the site of hydrogen consumption does not result in a net reduction in overall use. Hydrolysis to produce hydrogen requires electricity and lots of it. Add in costs of production, storage, transportation and %efficiency of use and a very different picture emerges. These all need to be carefully evaluated—before any conclusions are drawn-without a thumb on the scale

    1. Points well made Herb but the same factors go into making diesel fuel now. You have to start somewhere and it seems they have a pretty good team lined up for this including Sierra Railway “principal owner of Sierra Energy Corp, which has developed a proprietary waste-to-hydrogen technology.”. Currently you have “Most switchers use an average of 50,000 gallons per year of diesel fuel; widespread use of hydrogen technology could lead to a reduction of more than 12 million gallons per year, the same amount consumed by 20,000 light-duty vehicles”, so we will need to see how this plays out.

    1. The reaction equation is CH4 (methane) + H2O (water) + energy -> 3 H2 + CO (carbon monoxide), and then CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2. Unless someone can come up with a cheap and practical way of producing hydrogen (electricity from photovoltaic cells) these hydrogen fuel projects seem like a fantasy. However hydrogen is produced the usable energy will be a less than the energy consumed producing hydrogen.

  2. Why does the article talk about the Sierra Northern RAILWAY, when the photograph shows the Sierra Northern RAILROAD ? Walter Fritz, Ober, Indiana

    1. Searching with Google railway appears to be correct. The artist responsible for the “photograph” may be responsible. The engine does not exist yet. Looks like a model from the ballast.

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