Ballard Power Systems will provide fuel cell modules to Sierra Northern Railway—the freight division of privately-owned Sierra Energy Corporation, operating in Northern California—to power a zero-emission switching locomotive. A purchase order for the fuel cell modules is expected to be issued by Sierra by mid-year 2021. The pilot program will be partially funded by a $4-million award from the California Energy Commission. (Earlier post.)
Sierra plans to retire a diesel locomotive and replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive powered a 200 kW Ballard FCmove-HD fuel cell system and involving the integration of hydrogen storage together with advanced battery and systems control technologies. Ballard plans to deliver FCmove-HD fuel cell modules to Sierra by 2022, and Sierra intends to put the locomotive into service in 2023.
The new hydrogen-fueled switching locomotive will displace the need for conventional diesel fuel and will facilitate the improvement of local air quality as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise and odor. The program will establish a platform for widespread deployment in California, where more than 260 switching locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives are currently in service.
Ballard will participate in the program with a multi-company team and will provide applications engineering and field support throughout a 6-month demonstration period. The switching locomotive will be refueled at a new hydrogen station to be constructed by Royal Dutch Shell plc.
Short-line and switching locomotives account for a significant share of the total locomotive energy use within the State of California, making short-line operation an excellent testbed for the demonstration of zero-emission technology. Most switching locomotives in California use an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel per year, leading to a potential reduction of more than 12-million gallons of diesel annually–approximately equivalent to the fuel used by 20,000 light-duty vehicles.