Reversible-Fuelcell Energy Tender
The objective of the project is to determine the feasibility of and ultimately build a prototype of a reversible-fuelcell rail vehicle that has been described as a “go-anywhere vehicle.” It is a “tender” because it may provide (a) only electric power to an electric train or (b) provide mechanical traction power to a train without its own traction drive. In this concept, an onboard electrolyser receives electric power from various sources, for example, the catenary line when the tender is moving under it or from the grid when it is parked, and the tender stores the hydrogen onboard as compressed gas. When outside electric power is not available, e.g., in a gap in the catenary, it provides traction power to the train to which it is attached from an onboard fuelcell powerplant.
The prototype tender will provide power to a passenger railcar having specifications equivalent to a diesel-powered British Class 156 Super Sprinter. It will be demonstrated on a passenger line in the UK. While it will demonstrate the general concept of a reversible-fuelcell tender for powering trains, the applications of the reversible-fuelcell tender are much broader in scope and include:
1. Operation in gaps in the catenary line via onboard electrolysis from power provided when the train/tender is under the catenary
2. Operation anywhere via electrolysis from power provided from the grid when the tender is parked, e.g., at a rail station
3. Operation anywhere from hydrogen transferred to the tender by an off-board hydrogen refuelling station
4. Serving as a mobile hydrogen refuelling station providing fuel for other applications, e.g., cars
5. Serving as a mobile backup power supply (“power-to-grid”) to provide power from hydrogen for critical infrastructure, e.g., a hospital, when the grid is disabled
6. Serving as a mobile primary power source for maintenance machines, such as welders and grinders, in third- or fourth-rail underground railways
Fuelcell Hybrid Switch Locomotive
In 2008, Vehicle Projects LLC, with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, designed, developed and fabricated system and sub-system modules for a future 250kW fuel cell hybrid switch locomotive. BNSF provided the locomotive platform and location for the modification and fabrication of the module components. The government provided the fuel cells and sub-system components. In 2009, the fuel cell system and sub-systems were successfully into the locomotive, resulting in a fully functional and operational fuelcell hybrid switch locomotive. BNSF provided the location for the system integration and initial testing of the completed switch locomotive. The government and BNSF provided the funding for testing at TTCI, demonstration in Los Angeles, and power-to-grid demonstration at Hill Air Force Base.
In January of 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the BNSF Commerce Mechanical Facility to tour the hydrogen fuel cell switch locomotive. Mr. Matt Rose, BNSF chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, "Through a unique partnership with California, the railroads have embarked on an aggressive program to substantially reduce emissions from locomotives and rail yards. California communities are breathing cleaner air as a result of this cooperative relationship...Governor Schwarzenegger and his administration understand the benefits of rail and have worked closely with us to build upon the environmental advantages of rail to reduce emissions and improve air quality."
Later that year, the road-switcher locomotive's fuelcell powerplant was upgraded from 240-kW net power to 500 kW net. The resulting 500-kW unitary, standard power module or power building block will be the basis of future multi-MW railway locomotives. Thus, development of the 500-kW power building block is a critical development in the evolution of fuelcell switch locomotives to fuelcell road-switch locomotives that can make a vast impact on emissions reduction and national energy security.