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Ballard fuel cells to power CP’s line-haul Hydrogen Locomotive Program

Ballard Power Systems and Canadian Pacific announced that CP will employ Ballard fuel cell modules for CP’s pioneering Hydrogen Locomotive Program. (Earlier post.) The modules will provide a total of 1.2 megawatts of electricity to power the locomotive.

Through its Hydrogen Locomotive Program, CP will develop North America’s first hydrogen-powered line-haul freight locomotive by retrofitting a formerly diesel-powered locomotive with Ballard hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cells will work with battery technology to power the locomotive’s electric traction motors.

Once operational, CP will conduct rail service trials and qualification testing to evaluate the technology’s readiness for the freight-rail sector.

Ballard plans to deliver six of its 200-kilowatt fuel cell modules to CP in 2021. Ballard will provide support to enable integration of the modules into the locomotive.

CP’s Hydrogen Locomotive Program will develop North America’s first hydrogen and fuel cell-powered line-haul freight locomotive. In addition to Ballard’s work focused on powering commuter trains in Europe and urban trams in China, CP’s Hydrogen Locomotive Program in North America underscores the strong fit for zero-emission fuel cells to power heavy- and medium-duty motive applications, including trains, for which it is otherwise difficult to abate emissions.

—Randy MacEwen, Ballard President and CEO



Choo-choo! :-)
A great day for reducing pollution!


I will be very surprised if they build more than one of these. Also, most current line-haul locomotives have about a traction power rating of 3.3 megawatts (4400 hp).


Fuel cell trains after extensive testing are now being ordered regularly in Europe.
I don't really see why Canada should prove different.
As for the power output, I would offer two suggestions:

The fuel cell rating may be lower as they always have batteries on board for peak load, and also as they are modular if they had needed more, then there should be no inherent problems.



The fuel cell trains in Europe are relatively slow commuter and short haul intercity passenger trains. They have a relatively low power average requirement and recover energy during braking that goes back into the batteries. Many of these applications can be run on battery power alone especially if some of the track has sections of overhead power.

I am not sure where you live or what you know about North American freight trains but the trains usually have at least 2 and most of the time more locomotives that are 4300 or 4400 horsepower. The trains are are commonly about 6000 ft long and weigh more 15,000 tons but 30,000 ton trains that are 12,000 ft long or even longer are not uncommon. Union Pacific runs loaded grain trains that are about 6000 ft long and more than 15,000 tons with 2 locomotives leading and a third remote controlled locomotive pushing. However it is not uncommon for them to double up the trains with 2 locomotives leading, 3 locomotives mid-train and a sixth locomotive at the rear. Going up hill, the locomotive are running full power at about 10 mph for more than an hour at a time and even on the level will be running at full or close to full power. Batteries might be useful for for balancing some of the dynamic demand but current batteries are not going to be able to run at max power for hours at a time and 1.2 mW (1600 hp) fuel cell locomotives would require 2.5 to 3 times as many units. If you are going to run line-haul trains without diesel, it will most like be with overhead electric power which would be more than twice as energy efficient as fuel cells. I believe that CP had ordered a previous fuel cell switching (or shunting) locomotive but did not take delivery. BNSF tested it for a short while but is not currently using it although this would be a better application as there is not a high continuous power requirement. I expect that the same thing will happen in this case. CP will test it and find that it is not practical solution for heavy line haul applications.




Here are links to a major study on fuel cell trains in Europe:

The bottom line is that other than some limited cases, primarily shunting but also some low mileage regular routes, where for instance there can be regen at the station, batteries do not usually do the job, whilst the performance envelope of fuel cells can.

I am not sure why the loads on the Canadian trains should be above what fuel cells can do, since they are modular systems.

Overhead lines etc work well where there is enough traffic to justify them, but that is perhaps unlikely for long haul in Canada.

I am not sure what efficiency figures you are using, as the power has to come from somewhere with losses, and in any case cost is the bottom line so if the hydrogen and fairly substantial fuel cells can come in at a good cost, that rather than efficiency comparisons would determine the optimum solution.

Hopefully they will publish the results of their study.



I read your link which is OK but it is put out by a group backing fuel cells. The following is from Siemens

I think in most cases, battery electric will be lower cost for this application and as faster charging batteries become available, they will be even more applicable as the batteries can be recharged at stops.

Battery electric is not going to be easy to make work for North American heavy-haul freight. However, General Electric/Wabtec has developed a 4400 hp battery electric locomotive that they are proposing to use with diesel electric locomotives to create a hybrid combination. There was an interesting concept where these would be used with electric locomotives so that gaps in the overhead wire could exist where clearances are limited in bridges and tunnels. Note that the standard diesel electric locomotives can also be made to run off an overhead wire so it is possible to use a combination of diesel electric, battery electric and straight electric.

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