Towards a net-zero emissions rail system with hydrogen trains

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To enable the transition to a net-zero emissions economy, railroads are increasingly turning to alternative fuels to power their passenger and freight locomotives. Hydrogen fuel cells, in particular, have the potential to accelerate the decarbonization of the Canadian rail sector.

In a new collaborative R&D project, which began in 2022, experts from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) are working with teams from Transport Canada (TC) and the University of British Columbia (UBC), to assess the shortcomings associated with the deployment of hydrogen locomotives, also known as “hydrail”, and battery locomotives.

The project, which aligns with the Government of Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan, aims to identify, assess and mitigate potential risks associated with the use of hydrogen in rail operations, while supporting the development of best practices, codes and standards to help industry adopt this new technology. .

“We are excited to lead this collaborative project that will help the Canadian rail industry embrace new ways to power rail vehicles with low-emission technologies,” said Eddy Zuppel, Program Manager, Clean and Efficient Transportation Program. of the NRC. “Our work with Transport Canada and the University of British Columbia will be fundamental in advancing the implementation of a zero-emission rail system in Canada,” adds Zuppel.

The project team will carry out the project in 2 phases and will focus on a hydrogen locomotive operating in a marshalling yard. During Phase 1, NRC and TC researchers will identify potential safety and operational hazards associated with Hydrail and propose potential mitigation measures. In Phase 2, NRC will apply the results of Phase 1 to a prototype full-scale hydraulic locomotive developed by researchers at the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering, to assess “real world” risks and effectiveness of proposed mitigation solutions.

According to Gordon Lovegrove, associate professor at UBC’s School of Engineering, this research is an important step towards transforming the Canadian rail industry. “Our country has such a rich rail history, and sustainable rail is the next chapter and truly a re-emergence of Canada’s rail industry,” Lovegrove said. “Ensuring hydrogen is stored safely and assessing security risks will be at the heart of Canada’s future hydraulic systems,” adds Joshua Brinkerhoff, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UBC who specializes in hydraulic systems. hydrogen storage.

The project is expected to help establish a framework for the design and operation of fuel cell locomotives that offer the same safety protection as their conventional counterparts. This collaborative R&D project will provide sound guidance to regulators and the rail industry on best practices for installing hydrogen and battery-powered equipment in a safe and secure manner.

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