Design Engineering

Ballard fuel cells to power zero-emission locomotive

By DE Staff   

General Energy

Sierra Northern Railway pilot program to test conversion of switching locomotive fleet from diesel to fuel cells.

A Sierra Northern Railway switching locomotive (Photo credit: Ballard Power Systems Inc.)

Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems announced it expects to provide fuel cell modules to Sierra Northern Railway – the freight division of California-based Sierra Energy Corporation – to power a zero-emission switching locomotive. A purchase order for the fuel cell modules is expected to be issued by Sierra by mid-year 2021. The pilot program will be partially funded by a $4-million award from the California Energy Commission.

According to Ballard, Sierra plans to retire a diesel locomotive and replace it with a zero-emission switching locomotive powered by 200-kilowatts of Ballard’s FCmove-HD fuel cell module. The conversion will also include the integration of hydrogen storage together with advanced battery and systems control technologies.

The pilot program is expected to establish a platform for widespread deployment in California, where more than 260 switching locomotives and up to 500 intrastate locomotives are currently in service. Ballard will participate in the program with a multi-company team and will provide applications engineering and field support throughout a 6-month demonstration period. The switching locomotive will be refueled at a new hydrogen station to be constructed by Royal Dutch Shell plc.

“We are pleased to partner with this great team to build and test this innovative zero-emission switching locomotive. We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions free pathway in all ports in the State of California”, said Kennan H. Beard III, President of Sierra Norther Railway.


Short-line and switching locomotives account for a significant share of the total locomotive energy use within the State of California. Most switching locomotives in California use an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel per year; converting them could potentially reduce diesel fuel usage by more than 12-million gallons annually – approximately equivalent to the fuel used by 20,000 light-duty vehicles, the company says..


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