SIERRA Northern Railway (Sera) is set to lead the development of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered shunting locomotive following the award of a nearly $US 4m grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC).

The new zero-emission shunter will replace a Tier 0 diesel unit with the goal of “showing the potential of hydrogen fuel-cell technology to reduce transport air pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” according to the short line, which operates about 120km of track in Mendocino, Tuloumne, Stanislaus and Yolo counties.

The shunter will integrate advanced hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen storage, advanced battery and systems control technologies. “Demonstration and validation of this technology will establish a platform for widespread commercialisation in the immediate future,” Sera says reported.

Sera is serving as technical lead on the project; GTI, a non-profit research, development and training organization, is the formal CEC applicant. Other technical partners are Railpower Tech, Ballard Power Systems, which was recently selected to supply fuel cell modules for Canadian Pacific’s first HFC-powered linehaul freight locomotive, Optifuel Systems, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Valley Vision, Velocity Strategies, Southern California Gas Company, and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

“We believe this project will help lead the switching locomotive industry to an emissions-free pathway in all ports in the state of California,” says Sera president, Mr Kennan Beard III.

Sera handles approximately 6000 wagon loads per year of lumber, bulk gypsum, canned goods, chemicals, steel, grain and grain products, ethanol, and propane, among other commodities. The short line is owned by Sierra Railroad Company, principal owner of Sierra Energy, which it said has “developed a proprietary waste to clean hydrogen technology: FastOx gasification.”