A few clean breakthroughs

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

Railroads and locomotive builders are prepared to meet the EPA's tough Tier 4 emissions standards. Meanwhile, LNG has taken center stage as a potential replacement for diesel fuel.

Indianapolis, Ind., host city of Railway Interchange 2013, is best known for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But one day soon, it may also be identified with high-technology diesel locomotives that, emissions-wise, are a whole lot cleaner than their predecessors. At the North American rail industry’s largest trade show and technical conference, several key suppliers will be unveiling their newest diesel engine technologies.

In a little over a year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent Tier 4 locomotive emissions standards will take effect. Effective Jan. 1, 2015, the EPA will require manufacturers of locomotive diesel engines to lower PM (particulate matter) 70% and NOx 76%, compared to engines introduced in 2005. Without exception, locomotive builders and diesel powerplant suppliers—GE Transportation, Electro-Motive Diesel (a Caterpillar/Progress Rail Services company), Brookville Equipment Co., MotivePower Division of Wabtec, R.J. Corman RailPower, Knoxville Locomotive Works, MTU, Cummins—have either attained Tier 4 or are close to reaching what only a few years ago was considered a lofty goal.

Yet, as important as Tier 4 is to the industry’s immediate future, it’s being shoved out of the spotlight by what some believe could be a huge technological and economic breakthrough, the industry’s next “game-changer.” It’s LNG (liquefied natural gas), which, used as a locomotive fuel, “may be the next big opportunity for taking cost out of our operations,” according to BNSF Railway chief executive Matt Rose. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes with LNG, and so far the railroads and their suppliers and consultants have been a bit tight-lipped about their efforts.

The relative silence promises to be broken in the near future, as BNSF races ahead with a project to test three EMD and three GE LNG-fueled locomotives (the latter will most likely be a dual-fuel LNG/diesel unit) for a one-year period, beginning in the fourth quarter of this year. And this month in Chicago, the railroads and the locomotive builders (with the exception of BNSF, which prefers not to broadcast its plans just yet) will gather in Chicago at the second High Horsepower Summit, presented by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, a clean-energy consultant for the rail, highway, aviation, and marine industries. Among the rail industry presenters: Caterpillar’s Progress Rail Services and EMD CEO Billy Ainsworth, GE Transportation President and CEO Lorenzo Simonelli, EMD Director Engine Systems Martha Lenz, GE Transportation Dual-Fuel Engine System Leader Eric Dillen, Union Pacific General Director Car & Locomotive Engineering and AAR Natural Gas Fuel Tender Technical Advisory Group Chair Michael Iden, and CSX Director Strategic Analysis Dale Lewis. (Railway Age will be publishing reports on the proceedings on line, and in print in the October issue).

Meanwhile, industry consultants are attempting to plow through the issues surrounding conversion from diesel to LNG.

“Compliance to Tier 4 standards is just one part of our overall Evolution Locomotive product strategy,” GE Transportation says. “We launched this product strategy with the 2005 release of our Tier 2 locomotive that, using our four-stroke engine, was an industry success. We continued with this strategy in 2012 by introducing fuel system enhancements to meet Tier 3 emissions and further improve fuel efficiency. We now have our Evolution Series Advance Power 4 locomotive to meet Tier 4, which calls for the single-largest emission reduction in the tiered program’s timeline. The new locomotive meets this standard with technological advancements vs. costly alternatives that require special exhaust additives and infrastructure investments.”

GE’s Advance Power 4 prototype locomotive started testing in August along Norfolk Southern’s Erie, Pa., to Conneaut, Ohio, main line. GE will also be providing updates to its new NextFuel™ Natural Gas Retrofit Kits for retrofitting existing Evolution Series locomotives with dual-fuel capabilities, “enabling railroads to run on both diesel fuel and LNG with up to 80% gas substitution and with the flexibility to run 100% diesel as needed. GE has been testing this low pressure technology during the spring of this year, and will work closely with its Class I partners to continue further testing in the field.” These technologies will be featured at Railway Interchange in the GE Transportation stand (no. 5043).

EMD is supplying up to 20 new-design F125 low-emission “Spirit” series diesel-electric passenger locomotives to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority for operation on Metrolink—the first passenger railroad to purchase new Tier 4 locomotives. The F125 uses a turbocharged, 20-cylinder, four-stroke Cat® C-175-20 diesel engine, and includes an SCR (selective catalytic reduction)-only after-treatment system to meet Tier 4 standards. Equipped with an electronic fuel injection system, its prime-mover “provides exceptional train acceleration advantages, compared to other less powerful locomotive products or older technologies, while maintaining Tier 4 emissions performance,” EMD notes. To develop the F125, Billy Ainsworth notes, EMD “leveraged Cat’s engine and their great engine reliability and technology with our passenger locomotive capabilities.”

Ainsworth says that EMD has Tier 4 engines being tested, and he’s “comfortable with progress. Our Tier 4 solution will be an enterprise product, a result of the rich knowledge and experience of both Caterpillar and EMD. As an integrated manufacturer, we offer the largest power range of engines that include both two-cycle and four-cycle engines.”

MTU will have its series 4000 R54 locomotive engines on display at Railway Interchange. These engines were brought to North America “to offer a solution to meeting Tier 3 and CARB (California Air Resources Board) ULEL (Ultra Low Emission Locomotive) standards,” according to MTU Rail Engine Sales Senior Manager Doug Berry. “The 12- and 16-cylinder engines are rated at 2,414 hp (1,800 kW) and 3,218 hp (2,400 kW), and will meet the emission standards without exhaust gas aftertreatment. Typical applications for this power range are switcher locomotives, road switcher locomotives, and high speed trains. These engines will be the first for single-engine locomotives with traction power in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 hp capable of meeting CARB ULEL limits. The 12V 4000 R54, which is EPA Tier 3 and ULEL-certified, already meets Tier 4 levels of PM, CO and HC (hydrocarbon) emissions for line-haul applications, without after-treatment, but not NOx levels. It is rated at more than 2,300 hp, so it won’t be required to be certified for switch cycle applications. To meet all Tier 4 requirements, industry trends point toward implementation of some use of after-treatment. MTU is developing its Tier 4 technology, but we believe it will include minimal SCR in higher notch levels.”

LNG: Some progress in Canada

CN is testing two main line diesel-electric locomotives fueled principally by LNG in revenue service in northern Alberta, Canada. The units are testing on the 300-mile run north of Edmonton to Fort McMurray, the rail gateway to the oil sands region of northern Alberta. Fueling and maintenance takes place in Edmonton.

CN retrofitted the diesel engines in two 3,000-hp EMD SD40-2 locomotives to run on LNG using conversion kits supplied by Energy Conversions Inc. (ECI) of Tacoma, Wash. ECI says the hybrid fuel locomotive will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 70% over one locomotive duty cycle. The retrofitted locomotives, using 90% natural gas, with 10% diesel fuel for ignition, are paired with an LNG fuel tender—a specially equipped and protected tank car—between them. The tender, a former UP tank car, was upgraded by a unit of Chart Industries, Inc., New Prague, Minn. Chart is a supplier of cryogenic distribution and storage equipment to bulk and packaged industrial gas customers. LNG fueling is being provided by Encana Corp.

“CN launched this locomotive test to explore LNG as an alternative to diesel fuel,” said Executive Vice President and COO Keith Creel. “LNG has a lower carbon content than diesel fuel. Locomotives using LNG—if the railway technology employing this form of energy ultimately proves viable—would produce significantly lower CO2 emissions.

CN is also working with EMD, Westport Innovations Inc., and Gaz Métro Transport Solutions to develop a “state-of-the-art” LNG locomotive paired with a “standardized railway tender.” CN will provide two 4,300-hp EMD SD70M-2s for the test program. In addition to the engine conversion, EMD will supply technical expertise to integrate the LNG engine controls into the locomotive, including Westport™ high-pressure direct injection (HPDI) and LNG fuel system technologies. GMTS will develop LNG liquefaction requirements and distribution systems. The LNG tender for this initiative will be jointly developed by the project partners.

The CN-led group expects to roll out prototype main line locomotives for road tests in 2014. Westport secured funding of C$2.3 million from the Canadian government’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada program to develop HPDI for high-horsepower applications.

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