Supply Briefs: SoCalGas/Sierra Northern, ClearBlade/Phoenix Contact

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The new zero-emission switcher, replacing a Tier 0 diesel unit, will integrate hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies.

The new zero-emission switcher, replacing a Tier 0 diesel unit, will integrate hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies.

Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) is providing $500,000 to help develop Sierra Northern Railway’s hydrogen fuel cell (HFC)-powered switcher. Also, Phoenix Contact and ClearBlade have partnered on an Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) solution for the rail, oil and gas, energy and industrial markets.

Woodland, Calif.-based Sierra Northern announced in March that it would retire a diesel locomotive and replace it with an HFC-powered switcher, which will be partially funded by a $4 million award from the California Energy Commission (CEC). SoCalGas was named a technical partner, and reported July 28 that it would provide project funding.

The new zero-emission switcher will replace a Tier 0 diesel unit in an aim to “show the potential of HFC technology to reduce transportation air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the short line, which operates about 75 miles of track in Mendocino, Tuloumne, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. It will integrate HFC, hydrogen storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies.

Sierra Northern Railway President Kennan H. Beard III

Sierra Northern is serving as technical lead for the project; GTI, a Des Plaines, Ill.-based non-profit research, development and training organization, is the formal CEC applicant. Other technical partners are Railpower Tech LLC, Ballard Power Systems (which reported April 19 that it would receive a purchase order for its fuel cell modules by mid-year and deliver them by 2022), Optifuel Systems LLC, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, Frontier Energy and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

“We believe HFC-powered locomotives can play a significant role in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the railways that serve California’s ports and warehouses,” SoCalGas Vice President of Clean Energy Innovations Neil Navin said. “This research is just part of our efforts to lead the transition to clean fuels in California and it supports our commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045.”

“Sierra Northern Railway is very pleased to partner with SoCalGas to design, build and test the switcher locomotive,” Sierra Northern President Kennan H. Beard III said. “Without their support, building this important next-step zero-emission locomotive would not be possible. This demonstration will facilitate the improvement of local air quality, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noise and odor for those communities that live near ports throughout California.”

The combination of ClearBlade’s Intelligent Assets platform and Phoenix Contact’s open PLCnext-based Edge Gateway will allow customers to “harness the power and agility” of the Industrial IoT, according to Pat McCurdy, Vice President of Industry Management and Automation at Phoenix Contact USA, which develops and manufactures industrial electrical and electronic technology products. “Our customers gain immediate operational insight with no programming through the powerful, yet intuitive Intelligent Assets interface,” he explained.

The ClearBlade-Phoenix Contact solution—including hardware, connectivity, edge and cloud services—is said to provide “100% remote monitoring that breathes life into legacy SCADA systems and makes new sensors plug-and-play.”

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