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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




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.

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