PetroSun BioFuels to Build 30M Gallon Algal Biodiesel Plant in Arizona
Two Research Groups Demonstrate High-Performance Thermoelectric Capability in Silicon Nanowires

BNSF Railway and Vehicle Projects Develop Experimental Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Switch Locomotive; Locomotive-to-Grid Application Explored

Drawing of the fuel-cell hybrid locomotive. Click to enlarge.

BNSF Railway Company and Vehicle Projects LLC, a developer of large fuel-cell vehicles such as mine loaders and mine locomotives, are leading a project consortium to develop an experimental hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid switch locomotive.

The vehicle platform is based on the Green Goat diesel-battery hybrid switcher, and the powerplant and hydrogen storage are based on the Citaro hydrogen fuel-cell transit bus (earlier post). The goal of the project is to demonstrate reduced air and noise pollution in urban rail applications, including yard switching; and to demonstrate the fuel-cell switchers for use as a mobile backup power source (“locomotive-to-grid”, or “power-to-grid”) for military bases and civilian disaster relief efforts.

Field testing is scheduled to begin later this year, with the LA Basin serving as the location for reduced emissions testing and Hill AFB in Utah serving as the location for the backup power application.

As a nation, two widely-accepted issues are global climate change and energy insecurity, which have a common factor—oil. The world burns millions of barrels of oil for energy, and the waste carbon is then emitted to the atmosphere. Because they don't rely on oil as a fuel source, fuel cells solve these two issues. Along with our principal partners, BNSF and the US Army, we at Vehicle Projects are developing proof-of-concept hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are leading the way to this new technology.

—Arnold Miller, president, Vehicle Projects LLC
Yard switcher duty cycle. Click to enlarge.

The project team is replacing the 200kW diesel prime mover in the Green Goat switcher with a 250kW fuel cell powerplant—based on the powerplant of the Citaro bus—comprising two 125 kW modules. The auxiliary lead-acid traction battery allows transients in excess of 1 MW. The electrically driven rear traction-motor cooling fan and brake air compressor of the Green Goat will remain in place beside the prime mover.

For the power-to-grid application, an off-board power converter will convert the 600-850 VDC output of the fuel cell powerplant to the three-phase AC power of the military-base grid. The hybrid locomotive can provide 250 kW of power on a continuous basis but can provide power surges in excess of 1 MW. Its low acoustic noise and vibration are essential features of its practicality in power-to-grid applications.

Fourteen carbon-fiber composite tanks, located above the traction battery, store a total of 70 kg of compressed hydrogen at 350 bar. Vehicle Projects conducted a safety analysis showing that compressed hydrogen on the roof is essentially as safe as reversible metal-hydride storage in the undercarriage bay (i.e., replacing the diesel fuel tank); the high weight of metal-hydride storage precludes the roof location.

Locomotives require a fixed operating weight. Because the combined weights of the fuel cell powerplant and carbon-fiber hydrogen storage system are substantially lighter than the diesel genset and diesel fuel tank they replace, a steel-plate ballast of approximately 1.0 m3 volume will be placed in the undercarriage bay.

The operating time of the fuel cell-hybrid switcher between refueling operations depends on the duty cycle. Under the most demanding duty cycles, one could expect an operating interval as short as one day, i.e., refueling on a daily basis; in less demanding yards, the interval may be 3-5 days. A major factor in the operating interval is the amount of idle time in the duty cycle.

Project Consortium Members
American Superconductor (pending) Power electronics
Ballard Power Systems Fuel cell stack modules
BNSF Railway Company Industry funding; fabrication; vehicle integration; testing; yard demo
Defense Gen. & Rail Equipment Center (DGRC) Advising on military applications; power-to-grid demonstration
Dynetek Industries Hydrogen storage
RailPower Hybrid Technologies Manufacture of Green Goat Platform
Transportation Technologies Center, Inc. Railyway safety regulations
University of Nevada-Reno Refueling systems design
US Army (NAC) Project oversight
Vehicle Projects LLC Engineering design; project management
Washington Safety Management Solutions Safety Analysis



Max Reid

Its true that electrified railways cannot handle stacked double container wagons.

But they can convert from Diesel to Natgas and already 7.5 million vehicles the World over use that fuel, also some LNG tanker ships use Natgas as the fuel.
If the Hydrogen technology matures, we can switch over to it later.

Of late, the Bio-Natgas is supplied to homes thru pipelines.

1 good thing is that Railways in North America has almost recovered from near death and many cities are considering LRT as well.

Rafael Seidl

Gents, a switch locomotive is one used to shunt freight wagons around a yard, assembling and disassembling trains as needed. You could do this electrically, but only if you segregate that segment of the grid from the main line, otherwise the power spikes either way will play havoc with the system.

It's a lot cheaper to deploy ICE-based locomotives, typically diesels running on sulfur-laden off-road dross but that causes emissions problems. Let's focus on the specific application and not worry about the entire US rail network plus buses in this thread.

Stan Peterson

@ Rafael,

Yes the FC locomotives are rail yard switchers. Since these switch yards frequently occur in cities the pressure exist to clean up the local rail locomotives of which the switchers are the most common, since air quality attainment is a city problem.

The CARB has tried to address this be seeking a new generation of yard switchers based on clean diesel technology, (but not quite T2B5).

It is a manifestation that the primary producers of pollution have been reduced to next to nothing. So secondary, tertiary, and even smaller sources of pollution are now being addressed.

I speculated in a post not long ago that Fuel Cells would most likely enter the market at the high power high cost, end of the spectrum. I even suggested a Fuel Cell Locomotive. It turns out that such a yard dog was being designed, even then.

Overall I suspect that a T2B5 diesel yardog will prove to be better, but "let a thousand flowers bloom" such is capitalism in action, aka competition. May the best approach win.


Hi Rafael,

there are quite a few electric switcher locomotives in use in europe (ie. 1063, 1163, 1064) with continous power ratings in the 1.5 MW range. With modern PFC-like semiconductor power rectification, the disturbances in the grid are neglegible; also, rail yards typically feature individual supply rails per track and have their own substation.

@Mark A.:

The rail gauge in europe is the same as in the US with 1435 mm. However, the loading gauge, especially on long distance tracks in the western part of the US, allows for over 6,1 m height, compared with 4,1 m in the EU. Thus double-stacked TEU-containers are not possible here (not only due to the electrificiation, but also due to many tunnels, bridge heights etc.

In any case, the typical long-haul US engine is a series-diesel/electric, lacking any means to store regenerated power. Instead, huge cooling fans can dissipate as much as 3-4 MW of the generated power during braking. I would think, that at least a partial electrification (ie. with a 3rd rail) on steep grades would be extremely beneficial for UP and nearby population. Instead of wasting 4times 3MW (typically, a 3rd or even 4th engine is coupled in order to climb the grade), and further heating the hot southern states air, the generated electricity could be sent into the grid (or at least some kind of stationary "external" power storage, like a flywheel or pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant nearby) and instead of running the diesels at peak power climbing up, that energy could be consumed off the grid / storage.

With 3-8 trains, each wasting 30-50 MWh daily (!) on a typical grade, that would save some 1 to 3 million gallons, 20000 to 100000 barrels a year per grade (mountain pass)...

Just some numbers to think about the wasteful way of life the US currently lives... (Oil needs to get scarcer and much more costly still - 200-300 USD/bar, to feel the pressure).


Lets be realistic on overhead eletrification. It makes a ton of sense in urban, suburban, even constant hundreds of miles(s/b kilometer) runs. But its going to take some doing to get from say LA to Denver to Chicago to NY. Hybrid locomotives and help on the up-slopes should be priorities.


Alan over at The Oil Drum has noted the real problem with rail electrification:  it involves improvement of the infrastructure, which increases property taxes.  The Interstates don't pay property taxes, so railways should probably be exempted to level the playing field.

Alan has a map of rail electrification projects which are on the drawing board.  They include runs from Los Angeles through Texas, IIRC.  Pretty much the whole nation was wired by the REA; it's time to use that wiring to eliminate the rail system's dependence on petroleum.


I had the same idea, wherein in Locomotives also regenerative braking could be used and the electricity generated would be given to grid.

The Betuweroute is electrified and is build to handle double-stacked TEU-containers so technically it is possible

Bob Battersby

Long distance electrification is the only choice you in the US may soon have: You've been there before with the Milwaukee Road. A diesel is an electric loco with it's power station on board. You list the disadvantage of electrification as the "costly" overhead: Think of the catenary as you do the track. Electrification has never been cheaper, especially with 50kV, and auto-transformers. As far as double stacking containers is concerned, just have the contact wire higher to suit the loading gauge. AC supply means energy savings can be made due to braking locomotives regenerating into the supply: You've done that before in the US: saw a photo of a substation where the rotary converters were feeding power from a loco back into the grid. Plus electric railways are penalised by Government by property tax being levied on them: A sure fire way to keep railways low grade. Innovation is not needed: Just an open mind and the absence of petrochemical industry interests.


If memory serves, correct me if I am wrong, there were diesel locomotives built that could run on both electrification and diesel. I am thinking of the diesel locomotives that had third-rail contacts attached to the trucks (wheel frames) of the locomotives; and could seamlessly go from diesel to electrification and back.

Also, has any one considered running the long haul trains on third-rail? This would do away with a lot of expenses for catenary wires and towers. It would mean that there would not be any interference with double-stack container cargo. Also, no modifications to existing tunnel heights or any other overhead structures would have to be done; resulting in substantial installation savings. Also, the maintenance costs would be reduced by doing away with the catenary equipment.


Well come to INDIAN RAILWAYS..the MOST indigenously built technologies and modern fleet of railways with a bigger network then EUROPE and highest volume of passenger and cargo.. Its also leads as a profitable government entity. US RAILWAYS HAS TO BE NATIONALIZED LIKE OTHER COUNTRIES..FOR BRINGING IT WITH PAR WITH EUROPE. WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY and KNOW HOW but no political or people will to invest to improve the fourth world technology in terms of laying new or doubling the electrification of rail tracks. ELECTRICAL LOCOS are the future..its more easy to generate electricity at a power station using hydrogen or any fuel rather then a namesake hybrid technology. Indian railways has a vast electrical track network and is moving fast to have complete electrification of all its rail tracks.

Loco manufacturer

Richard P.

There is plenty of information available on Fuel Cells & Hydrogen. Get a world wide view in the monthly fuel cell newsletter and subscribe free at FC2K. Hydrogen manufacturing news is also available at

There are so many FC projects, including submarines that are able to run silent without nukes. FC for buildings & hospitals with backup power for elevators. etc.

The world is not waiting for the U.S. to come up with all the answers.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)