ROLLS-ROYCE and British leasing company Porterbrook have signed a memorandum of understanding to investigate the use of synthetic and net zero fuels, including hydrogen, in fuel cells and internal combustion engines used in rail vehicles.

The two companies are also set to explore the possibility for advanced hybridisation following the introduction of a retrofitted hybrid battery-diesel class 168 rail vehicle into passenger service with Chiltern Railways on February 10. The partners will consider the wider plan for decarbonisation, including necessary adaptations to the supply chain, infrastructure and operational models that can support innovation and the transition to net zero.

The British government is aiming to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040. Infrastructure manager Network Rail released a Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy in September 2020, which identified lines suitable for electrification or hydrogen and battery operation.

Rolls-Royce’s Power Systems supplied its hybrid-electric powerpack to the class 168 used by Chiltern Railways. CEO Mr Warren East says the Rolls-Royce is able to draw on expertise from across its business to develop new net zero and zero emissions technologies for safety-critical applications. “This relationship with Porterbrook will help us further understand the options for decarbonising rail transport,” he says.

Power Systems is developing a range of engines that can run on hydrogen and is working on fuel cells for ships and heavy-duty off-road vehicles. Power Systems has also committed to release new versions of its most popular engines that run on sustainable fuels, including MTU Series 4000 locomotive engines. It plans to release conversion kits to enable these engines to operate on solely hydrogen fuel in 2023.

In addition to HybridFlex, Porterbrook has developed HydroFlex, a tri-mode train that can operate using electric, battery and hydrogen power, which was demonstrated at COP26 in Glasgow in November. CEO Ms Mary Grant says the leasor is at the forefront of developing alternative traction systems for rolling stock and the partnership with Rolls Royce will help the firm to maintain its leading role in sustainable rolling stock solutions.