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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Locomotives Gearing Up to Start Operating in North America

While hydrogen is still a controversial alternative source of power, its potential benefits for heavy-duty applications in the automotive industry are still seen as one of the best solutions for sustainable transportation. Rail is one of these applications, and one of the major players in the North American rail sector is gearing up to launch three hydrogen fuel cell locomotives soon.
CP wants to convert the diesel-electric powertrains of three freight locomotives 6 photos
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Canadian Pacific (CP) launched a Hydrogen Locomotive Program in 2020, for the conversion of a diesel-electric powertrain to a hydrogen-electric one. After obtaining additional funding, it expanded the program to include three different types of locomotives, which represent the main categories that are currently in use throughout North America. The objective is to prove hydrogen technology’s viability for this sector, by first operating three converted locomotives.

This innovative program was one of the 16 sustainable projects that were selected by Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) as a result of its Shovel-Ready Challenge, launched in 2021. Part of the $12 million (CAD$15 million) funding received from ERA was used for acquiring hydrogen fuel cell modules from Ballard Power Systems.

Ballard’s fuel cells have been integrated into a variety of vehicles, ranging from buses and trucks to heavy cargo vessels. Now, they will be powering CP’s converted locomotives. Ballard recently announced a new order for eight additional fuel cell modules, proving that CP is moving full-speed with its conversion project. In total, Ballard will supply CP with 14 modules, each of them with a power output of 200 kW (approximately 268 hp).

In addition to converting the three diesel-electric powertrains, CP intends to also build two hydrogen production facilities, using different technologies. The first one, located in Calgary, will operate an electrolysis plant for obtaining hydrogen from water, while the Edmonton-based one will use a “steam methane reformation system” that produces hydrogen using natural gas from local resources.

By scaling up the technology, costs of hydrogen production and deployment are expected to go down, which is one of the key factors for accelerating hydrogen use for various transportation applications.

The official launch date of the CP hydrogen locomotives hasn’t been set yet, but they are expected to start operating in the near future.

press release

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