Wabtec, National Labs Collaborate on Carbon Reduction

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
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To “identify solutions for applying hydrogen in the rail industry,” Wabtec has entered into collaborative research and development agreements (CRADA) with Oak Ridge and Argonne National Laboratories, the company announced Nov. 10.

Researchers from the multidisciplinary team last week kicked off the project, which is part of Wabtec’s dual path technology approach on hydrogen power for rail, and celebrated the installation of the company’s single-cylinder dual-fuel locomotive engine in the National Transportation Research Center, a Department of Energy Office of Science user facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Last year, Wabtec announced a collaboration on fuel cells with General Motors (GM).

“The parallel approach is enhancing Wabtec’s existing internal combustion locomotive engines to burn hydrogen,” the company said. “This approach is the focus of the CRADA with two national labs.”

The team, Watbec says, is focused on taking hydrogen combustion technology from simulation to realization utilizing the Wabtec engine. Hydrogen as fuel, Wabtec adds, has many advantages, but locomotive engines “must be modified to ensure safe, efficient and clean operation.” The team will develop hardware and control strategies for the engine, which will run on hydrogen and diesel fuel to demonstrate the viability of using alternative fuels.

Wabtec Rendering

In the project’s first phase, the ORNL team will work on hardware changes for retrofitting locomotives with the goal of reducing CO2 emissions from the roughly 25,000 locomotives already in use in North America. According to Wabtec, locomotives have a service life of more than 30 years, so replacing the entire fleet would take decades.

During the second phase of the project, ORNL and Wabtec will continue to alter the engine hardware to increase the amount of hydrogen that can be used. The team aims to completely replace diesel with hydrogen or low-carbon fuels in new locomotives, according to Wabtec.

“We are excited to be a part of this collaboration because it addresses the need to decarbonize the rail industry by advancing hydrogen engine technology for both current and future locomotives,” said Josh Pihl, an ORNL distinguished researcher and group leader for applied catalysis and emissions research. “It is also a perfect example of how a DOE-funded collaboration between industry and national laboratories can accelerate the development and commercialization of technologies to help reduce carbon emissions from transportation.”

Simultaneously, Argonne will leverage “more than a decade of experience” in modeling hydrogen injection and combustion to create a modeling framework to study combustion and emission control technologies used in hydrogen combustion engines. Experts in fuel injection, kinetics and combustion modeling, design optimization, high-performance computing and machine learning will take the project from start to finish.

“Many railroads have aggressive goals when it comes to CO2 reductions that are in the 30% range over the next decade,” said Wabtec Chief Technology Officer Eric Gebhardt. “The results from this CRADA with Argonne and ORNL will contribute greatly to decarbonization of the rail industry using hydrogen. It will help position the technology to be cost effective and practically implemented for rail operations.”

According to Wabtec, the economics on hydrogen “will be viable leading to the eventual commercial adoption of both a retrofit and a new unit option.” This, the company says, is based on the cost and performance of fuel cells “dramatically improving over the decade and the cost of green hydrogen reducing and being more available over the same period.”

“The collaboration with the labs is another example of Wabtec investing to lead the rail industry in hydrogen, as it has with the Tier 4 and the battery-electric locomotives,” the company said.

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