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Canadian Pacific’s hydrogen fuel cell locomotive to debut before year’s end

By Bill Stephens | November 30, 2021

First hydrogen-powered freight unit to enter test service next year

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Illustration of locomotive with predominantly green and silver paint scheme
Illustration of locomotive with predominantly green and silver paint scheme
A rendering of Canadian Pacific’s hydrogen fuel-cell locomotive. CEO Keith Creel says the engine will make its debut before the end of the year. (Canadian Pacific)

NEW YORK – Canadian Pacific’s first hydrogen fuel cell locomotive, a converted SD40-2F dubbed H2 0EL for “hydrogen zero-emissions locomotive,” will roll under its own power by the end of the year and then enter test service next year, CEO Keith Creel says.

CP’s homebuilt locomotive test bed, along with its headquarters solar array and other sustainability efforts, were recognized this month at the United Nations COP26 Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Creel told the RailTrends 2021 conference on Nov. 18.

“I think this could be a needle-mover for the industry,” Creel says of the hydrogen project, the first to use fuel cells and batteries to power a freight locomotive’s electric traction motors.

But Creel emphasizes this is an experiment. “And again, it may not work out. But I think it’s the right thing to do,” Creel says. “We’re not betting the farm on it, for lack of a better term.”

The $15 million CP is investing in the project was matched this month by a grant from Emissions Reduction Alberta, which will fund the conversion of a switcher and a high-horsepower unit. Also included in the grant: Funding for hydrogen production and fueling facilities at CP’s yards in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta [see “CP to build additional hydrogen locomotives …,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 1, 2021]. Emissions Reduction Alberta released this video about the project.

The Calgary facility will include an electrolysis plant to produce hydrogen from water, with electricity supplied by CP’s solar array. The Edmonton plant will include a small-scale steam methane reformation system that extracts hydrogen from natural gas produced in the energy-rich province. The facility will be built to accommodate equipment that can capture greenhouse gases.

CP’s hydrogen-powered locomotive project is the brainchild of Kyle Mulligan, the railway’s chief engineer.

Creel says he was on an inspection trip last year when the “talented Dr. Mulligan” pitched the concept. “He said, ‘I’ve got an idea. I believe I can connect all these components and we can create the first ever freight version of a hydrogen battery locomotive,’” Creel says.

Creel says he wants a hydrogen locomotive that has the power and range of a diesel-electric. “I’m operationally minded,” he says. “Don’t come to me with a solution that causes more headaches. So if you don’t get the range of a diesel locomotive, we’re not going to have that discussion.”

Mulligan went through CP’s railroader training programs and is a certified conductor and locomotive engineer who understands both operations and technology.

“For a modest investment, he said just let me prove the concept,” Creel says. “This has gone from concept to reality. We’ll be running the locomotive this year. It will move this year, we’ll be switching with it next year.”

Mulligan and a five-person team are developing the prototype locomotive in Calgary.

“Our vision is to prove the concept,” Creel says of the locomotives and related fueling systems. CP will share information with locomotive manufacturers and, if the project is successful, see if they have an interest in building production versions of hydrogen locomotives.

17 thoughts on “Canadian Pacific’s hydrogen fuel cell locomotive to debut before year’s end

  1. Congratulations to CP for their bold effort to cut back on carbon emissions. If government cannot do, what is needed to save humanity from global warming then corporations and individuals need to step up. Toyota’s hydrogen powered Maria is seen all over Orange County California and I have a hydrogen fueling station 5 miles from my home. In addition, I have personally made the commitment to get off the grid with solar power. ( Alternative energy is here and it is time for railroads to adapt as they once did with diesels.

    1. MICHAEL – It’s been a few centuries since I was in college. When I was in college, we were taught The Paradox of the One and the Many. One person can solve his unemployment problem through huge effort. Doesn’t follow that everyone can. One person can put solar collectors on his roof. Doesn’t follow that everyone can. One person can put a 220 volt charger in his garage. Other people don’t have a garage.

      What we ALL can do is drive fewer miles and consume less of everything. If any of us drive, say, 100 miles that we didn’t need to drive, the divergent environmental impact of gas vs. electrical is very small compared to the difference in environmental impact of not doing the drive.

    2. Charles,

      I appreciate your comments on what I posted. What I tried to point out is that change is already happening. Elon Musk and his Tesla or Ford Motor Company and their revolutionary Mustang Mach-E or the Ford F-150 Lightning are making the change. In addition, if you live in Southern California as I do driving 100 miles may not be far enough to get you to your job. I presently drive a hybrid car and my next car will be electric.

      With the price of oil, approaching an all-time high due to demand it makes it a good business decision to look for alternative ways to power a locomotive. Canadian Pacific pursuit of the development of fuel cell technology is the correct decision for our times. Also, if the carbon footprint of CP goes down that is just an additional benefit.

      I can only imagine what the president of Baldwin thought when EMD roll out the 103. As someone once said, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.


  2. I’m also waiting for one of the Class I’s to announce a slightly modified Diesel-Electric that used Green Diesel. Essentially a fuel generated by refining organic oils such as soy beans. Some of the big trucking outfits are using it but not sure if their is a really cost competitive price point.
    Yes, a lot of questions with Hydrogen but it is probably better suited for Locomotives and Ship propulsion than it will ever be for autos. And as Charles noted, it comes at a price that is not necessarily green unless your electricity is coming from a green source which also begs the next question. CP pilot project is barely skratching the surface compared to what it would really take to have hydrogen replace diesel in long run.

  3. In reference to comment #4 above, I checked some photos of CP’s SD40-2F and it resembles the CP 0101. Since CP has SD40-2Fs and no 8-40CMs, I think I’ve answered my question. . There are some similarities between the 8-40CM and the SD40-2F. I had earlier looked at photos of SD40PFs, which the CP 0101 is not.

  4. The CP 0101 locomotive in the picture looks like a modified GE 8-40CM, not a SD40-2F. Is the prototype different from the one in the picture? The number 0101 looks like a hexadecimal number, which in decimal would be a 5.

  5. The big questions are:
    1. What is the energy cost of separating hydrogen from water—could that energy have been put directly into the locomotive?
    2. Would just burning the natural gas in the locomotive be cheaper than extracting the hydrogen from it and throwing the rest away?
    3. Is this whole thing more efficient than losing some of diesel fuel’s energy to friction inside an engine?
    4. Would delivering electricity to a locomotive via catenary be cheaper than losing part of it on the way via these hydrogen extraction methods?
    5. Hindenburg?
    6. Fuel cell vs. plug-in——-VHS vs. Betamax?

    I’m glad CP is testing the idea because such experiments move us forward, even if sometimes by proving what does not work.

  6. I find this interesting (and somewhat ironic) this is all happening in a province noted for its focus on fossil fuels and especially tar sands:-)

    1. Hydrogen can be recovered — even in a carbon neutral fashion that is being currently being worked on for commercialized in Alberta — from oil, gas, and coal fields. Canada’s “Hydrogen Strategy” relies heavily on Quebec hydropower and Alberta fossil fuel reserves.

    2. Did you miss the paragraph which states that the hydrogen-from-water generator was being powered by a solar array?

    3. Did you miss

      “a small-scale steam methane reformation system that extracts hydrogen from natural gas produced in the energy-rich province.”

      This of course doesn’t take into effect the extraction or production of the materials needed to store the hydrogen.

    4. Gasoline, kerosene, and diesel don’t exist in nature either, you have to refine them from naturally occurring hydrocarbons, which requires energy, equipment, and has a financial cost. The same is true of hydrogen, the question is as a fuel can it be economically produced in a carbon neutral fashion? Reportedly in some trial cases utilizing surplus off-peak overnight wind power this as been achieved. There is also a lot of R&D going into creating more efficient and thus economic ways to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen, with some saying that hydrogen fuel cells are were batteries were a decade ago in development.

    5. Ben – Hydrocarbon fuels need refining processing storage transportation etc …. but they actually do exist in nature in crude form. Hydrogen does not exist in nature, not at all. Have to start from scratch to conjure it up.

    6. Mr Landey, I understand your point and thought you might make it, however gasoline doesn’t exist in nature like coal which you can dig out of the ground then burn as fuel in a steam engine of a locomotive, ship, or powerplant. Decades of R&D (for example fluid catalytic cracking) starting in the 19th Century allowed petroleum to fulfill the needs of society as an economic fuel, the same R&D process is now underway to make hydrogen a “carbon-free” economical replacement for fossil fuels. That is my point.

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