Beyond B100: SNCF’s ‘PlaneTER’ strategy for greener rail operations

The B100 plant-based biodiesel is made from locally grown rapeseed. 2021, SNCF

Following the successful implementation of rapeseed-based biofuel B100 in Normandy, SNCF Voyageurs is also looking into Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), batteries and hydrogen. sat down with Stéphane Chwalik, head of decarbonisation efforts for the Transport Express Régional (TER) fleet, to learn more about the company’s strategy. 

The overarching goal of SNCF’s strategy is to increase the number of passengers on board, while decreasing overall carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. More specifically, the railway company is aiming to reduce its annual CO2 emissions by 100 000 tons by 2025, and reduce the carbon footprint of each passenger by a third. To this end, the SNCF has been experimenting with various alternative energy sources.

“In terms of innovative solutions, our will is to advise the regional councils, which are transport organising authorities. We take particular care to launch the experimentation phases. All of this is done in order to define the relevance of the technology, with technical and economic aspects, we then present our findings, but the final choice rests with the regions”, explains Chwalik.

B100 also tested on other equipment

“We have a decarbonisation strategy that focuses on diesel trains. (…) Biofuels are an excellent transitional solution, to decarbonise TERs, albeit partially, but very quickly”, continues Chwalik. So far, SNCF has successfully implemented the use of B100 on one line. The 15 Regiolis trains in service on the Paris-Granville line have covered 4 million kilometers fuelled with B100 since April 2021. B100 produces 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil diesel and according to TER, Paris-Granville implementation has already saved 13,000 tons of CO2. This is the equivalent to the annual footprint of 1,500 French citizens.

“Two other experiments regarding the use of B100 were carried out on the Paris-Laon line in the Hauts-de-France region, and the Besançon-Le Locle-La Chaux de Fonds line, in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. We tested the B100 on other equipment, in other conditions, with positive results”, states Chwalik.

Particular attention has been paid to sustainability criteria: the biofuel purchased and used by SNCF Voyageurs is certified sustainable (2BS-Biomass Biofuels Sustainability Certification), audited by an independent body (e.g. Bureau Veritas). ‘It’s a rapeseed industry by-product, not derived from dedicated crops’, Chwalik explains. ‘One hectare of rapeseed can simultaneously produce 1,900 kg of animal-feed, 500 liters of edible oil and 1,000 litres of biofuel.’

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil in testing phase

Another biofuel, still in the early testing phase, is Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO). HVO is a synthetic paraffinic diesel, made from sustainable vegetable oils, or from waste reprocessing.

“The test results confirm a reduction in NOX and fine particle emissions. We have also seen that our engines are compatible. We are now looking at trying to launch experimentations in commercial traffic. We hope to launch the first commercial trials during the second half of 2023, around March or April,”

Hydrogen and battery power around the corner

SNCF Voyageurs is also looking into the use of batteries and hydrogen as alternative energy sources. “Hydrogen-powered trains will be tested at the beginning of 2026. Thanks to the financing of four Regions, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Grand-Est, and Occitanie and the French State, we have purchased twelve hydrogen trains from Alstom,” says Chwalik. “With the Regions, we are now working on the ecosystem to obtain the most carbon-free H2 and build the first train Hydrogen Refuelling Station,” he adds.

“There will also be an ecosystem to develop around battery trains because what we want to do in the near future is to be able to couple them with partial electrification solutions. Total electrification of lines can cost several million euros per km. By having a battery train and partial electrification, we can completely revise the economic model of the line”, explains Chwalik.

“The battery train will be tested at the end of 2024 in commercial traffic. We have ordered from Alstom the modification of five existing train sets into battery electric sets. These will be tested in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Hauts-de-France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie et Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur,” adds Chwalik.

These lithium-ion batteries will give the trains an 80 kilometers range. “The batteries will be recharged when the train is running under catenary. The train will be able to carry out commercial missions without direct CO2 emissions on non-electrified lines. There will also be a braking energy recovery device. This should lead to energy savings of around 20 per cent,” according to adds Chwalik, “We are convinced that there will not be one decarbonization solution but several that will complement each other.”

Interested in the switch to greener operations and alternatives for diesel in rail? Join the upcoming Rail Infra Forum in Rotterdam and online on March 14-15. Click here for more information and registration. 

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Author: Emma Dailey

1 comment op “Beyond B100: SNCF’s ‘PlaneTER’ strategy for greener rail operations”

bönström bönström|14.02.23|10:41

For sake of quality at service rendered to client, payer, now urgently redundancy has to be ensured, at electrification – and all the way!…
(No sudden, unplanned stops are accepted – at current “On Demand” supply chains!)

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