Iarnród Éireann and DIGAS to trial Europe's first retrofitted hydrogen freight locomotive

Iarnród Éireann and DIGAS to trial Europe's first retrofitted hydrogen freight locomotive

Irish Rail and DIGAS, a global leader in instant decarbonization solutions for the railway sector, have signed a contract to retrofit a freight diesel locomotive from diesel fuel to hydrogen as a proof of concept.

The €1.5 million project aims to help decarbonize the operations of Irish Rail diesel locomotives, assist the company in meeting its goals as a Sustainable Development Goal champion, increase its competitiveness, and reduce carbon exhaust emissions.

Under the agreement, Irish Rail will provide the 071 Class Diesel Locomotive for the conversion and make its workshop available for the installation, testing, and commissioning activities. DIGAS will manufacture, deliver, and install a Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine (H2 ICE) retrofit kit to convert the diesel locomotive to a hydrogen-powered locomotive.

Unlike other hydrogen projects in the rail sector where hydrogen is used to run locomotives via fuel cells or through specially produced hydrogen engines, this project will showcase a unique approach where hydrogen will be used in the locomotive's current internal combustion engine.

This innovative technology requires minimal changes to the locomotive and, if successful, the project will showcase a more practical and cost-effective way to decarbonize and run the existing diesel locomotive fleet with hydrogen-powered engines.

Barry Coakley

The project is currently in the design process and scheduled for two testing phases across 2024 and 2025. Phase 1 will focus on static testing of the locomotion to check power and emissions output. Phase 2 will follow in 2025 and focus on service trials of the locomotion on the rails. All designs and testing standards are subject to approval from the Commission for Railway Regulation (CRR).

“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,” commented 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 ambitions to decarbonise transportation sector by 2040.”

“We are very excited to have Iarnród Éireann as our partner for this project,” explained 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 project is funded by Iarnród Éireann and DIGAS, and co-funded by EIT Urban Mobility, a body of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and Mechanical Engineering Competence Center, a Latvian body receiving funding from the European Recovery and Resilience Facility.

The work under the contract has commenced on both sides with an objective to test a retrofitted hydrogen locomotive in 2024. As part of the agreement, Iarnród Éireann will bring in partners to the project who will provide hydrogen refueling for the retrofitted locomotive.

This project is a significant step towards the decarbonization of the rail sector in Europe. If successful, it could pave the way for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future for rail transport.

Photo Credit: Irish Rail

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