Sierra Northern Hydrogen Locomotive Project

Integrating a hydrogen fuel cell module, onboard hydrogen storage, and a battery module to collectively provide an efficient zero-emission alternative to diesel switcher locomotives

Institute of Gas Technology dba GTI Energy

Recipient

Des Plaines, IL

Recipient Location

37th

Senate District

68th

Assembly District

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$2,491,816

Amount Spent

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Active

Project Status

Project Update

The project team has completed the design and is in the process of fabrication and assembly of the locomotive. Due to supply chain issues, the build will be extended through the end of 2023, and the locomotive is expected to start operating in March 2024. The team has also received feedback on their preliminary Hydrogen Safety Plan from the Hydrogen Safety Panel and has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration on safety reviews. In July 2023, The California State Transportation Authority announced a $15.6M Port and Freight Infrastructure Program funding award to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and Sierra Northern Railway to convert an additional three locomotives to hydrogen, building off knowledge gained from this project.

The Issue

Executive Order N-79-20 established a goal to transition off-road vehicles and equipment to 100 percent zero-emission by 2045. Switcher locomotives are off-road vehicles that perform first and last mile freight rail functions at ports and railyards, rely on older and higher emitting diesel engines, and consume an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel per year. California has more than 260 switcher locomotives that directly impact air quality in communities located around ports and railyards. Zero-emission technologies like hydrogen fuel cells can help decarbonize and reduce emissions from the rail sector, but in-service demonstration data is needed to inform railroad adoption decisions.

Project Innovation

This project is integrating a hydrogen fuel cell module, onboard hydrogen storage, and a battery module to collectively provide an efficient zero-emission alternative to diesel switcher locomotives. The project is building and demonstrating a hydrogen fuel cell switcher locomotive over six months with Sierra Northern Railway, a Class III short line railroad that operates around the Port of West Sacramento. By analyzing in-service performance data and evaluating other suitable rail applications for hydrogen fuel cell technology in California, the project aims to lay the foundation for commercialization to expand hydrogen use in the rail sector.

Project Goals

Design, build, and demonstrate in real-world operation a safe and reliable hydrogen-powered locomotive.
Collect data to provide insights into the performance, operations, and costs of the proposed technology.
Reduce air pollutant emissions (NOx and PM) and noise, improving conditions for community ratepayers and railroad workers.

Project Benefits

A successful demonstration of a hydrogen switcher locomotive will provide valuable information regarding the cost, performance characteristics, and benefits of zero emission locomotive conversions, particularly for railroad operators and communities located near ports and railyards. This project will demonstrate the feasibility of using hydrogen to decarbonize rail, which could be an important end-use as the gas system transitions to potentially support clean hydrogen conveyance in the future.

Environmental & Public Health

Environmental Sustainability

The hydrogen switcher locomotive will displace 10,000 gallons of diesel per year with hydrogen, resulting in 225,000 pounds/year of carbon dioxide, 4,222 pounds/year of NOx, and 147 pounds/year of particulate matter emission reductions.

Increase Safety

Safety

The hydrogen switcher locomotive will be designed to meet Federal Railroad Administration safety standards. Hydrogen safety will be ensured through involvement of Hydrogen Safety Panel and employing best practices in hydrogen industry. Safety data will be recorded during the demonstration to inform codes and standards development.

Key Project Members

Project Member

Bart Sowa

R&D Manager
GTI Energy

Subrecipients

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University of California, Riverside

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Valley Vision, Inc.

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Frontier Energy, Inc.

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Ballard Fuel Cell Systems Inc.

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Railpower Tech LLC

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Sierra Northern Railway

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MEF Consulting LLC

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Match Partners

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Institute of Gas Technology dba GTI Energy

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Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas)

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Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District

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Ballard Fuel Cell Systems Inc.

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Sierra Northern Railway

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Contact the Team

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