Ballard to supply fuel cells for locomotive project

By Jack Burke20 April 2021

Partial funding comes from California Energy Commission

Ballard Power Systems plans to provide fuel cell modules to Sierra Northern Railway to power a zero-emission switching locomotive.

A purchase order for the fuel cell modules is expected to be issued by California-based Sierra, the freight division of privately-owned Sierra Energy Corp. by mid-year 2021. The pilot program will be partially funded by a US$4 million award from the California Energy Commission.

Sierra plans to retire a diesel locomotive and replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive powered by 200 kW of Ballard’s FCmove-HD fuel cell module 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.

California has more than 260 switching locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives in service.

The California Energy Commission has awarded GTI and Sierra Northern Railway nearly US$4 million to fund the design, integration, and demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell switching locomotive to support the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Demonstrations in Rail and Marine Applications at Ports (H2RAM) initiative.

Ballard will participate in the program with a multi-company team and will provide applications engineering and field support throughout a six-month demonstration period. The switching locomotive will be refueled at a new hydrogen station to be constructed by Royal Dutch Shell plc.

“We are pleased to partner with this great team to build and test this innovative zero-emission switching locomotive. We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions free pathway in all ports in the State of California,” said Kennan H. Beard III, president of Sierra Norther Railway.

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.

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