Irish Rail to trial Europe’s first locomotive to combust hydrogen instead of diesel
Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), and the Latvian company DIGAS have entered into a contractual agreement aimed at transforming a diesel freight locomotive into one that runs on hydrogen in the same combustion engine a proof-of-concept initiative. The primary objective of this 1.5 million euro project is to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions of Iarnród Éireann’s operations.
Under the terms of the agreement, Iarnród Éireann will supply the 071 Class Diesel Locomotive for the conversion process and provide access to their workshop facilities for the installation, testing, and commissioning phases. DIGAS, on the other hand, will take on the responsibility of manufacturing, delivering, and installing a retrofit kit featuring a Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine (H2 ICE) to convert the diesel locomotive into one powered by hydrogen. This conversion will enable the locomotive to operate on renewable, emission-free hydrogen fuel instead of traditional diesel.
Additionally, as part of their collaboration, both companies will exchange the necessary technical and commercial information required for DIGAS to design, produce, install, and facilitate the commissioning of the hydrogen conversion kit. This exchange of knowledge will also allow Iarnród Éireann to conduct comprehensive testing on the retrofitted locomotive.
The project is currently in its design phase and is scheduled to undergo two testing stages, one in 2024 and the other in 2025. The first phase will involve static testing of the locomotive to assess its power and emissions output. Subsequently, the second phase in 2025 will focus on conducting service trials of the locomotive on railway tracks. It’s important to note that all designs and testing protocols will be subject to approval by the Commission for Railway Regulation (CRR).
Combustion instead of fuel cell
In contrast to conventional hydrogen projects in the railway industry, where hydrogen is typically employed to power locomotives through fuel cells, where hydrogen energy is converted to electric power, or custom-built hydrogen engines, this initiative introduces a distinctive approach. Here, the locomotive’s existing internal combustion engine will be adapted to be able to use hydrogen fuel, representing an innovative technological solution that necessitates minimal alterations to the locomotive itself.
“Iarnród Éireann has 18 ‘071’ class diesel locomotives in railway operations, 12 of which are used to support freight operations. If the conversion tests are successful, these locomotives can be converted to greener and more efficient alternatives”, comments Jim Meade, Chief Executive of Iarnród Éireann. “Iarnród Éireann is a designated champion of the state’s commitment to the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. We are committed to taking a leading role in supporting the Irish Government’s ambitions to decarbonise the transportation sector by 2040.”
Petro Dumenko, CEO & Co-founder of DIGAS: “We see the same challenge over and over again with all railway operators – the need to decarbonise their operations but having an extremely long lifecycle of their assets which still runs on diesel fuel. This project will showcase a cost-effective and practical way for operators like Iarnród Éireann to decarbonise their existing fleet of diesel locomotives.”
The funding for this project is being provided by Iarnród Éireann and DIGAS, with additional co-funding support coming from EIT Urban Mobility, an entity within the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, as well as the Mechanical Engineering Competence Center in Latvia, which is receiving funding from the European Recovery and Resilience Facility.
The contractual work has already commenced on both sides, with the shared objective of conducting tests on the retrofitted hydrogen locomotive in 2024. As per the terms of the agreement, Iarnród Éireann will engage partners who will facilitate the provision of hydrogen refuelling for the retrofitted locomotive.