train tracks

RIA: Routes to Zero Carbon Rail via rolling stock

At such a vital time for the UK and the rail industry, with the UK’s Net Zero target less than 30 years away and the impact that Covid-19 has and will have on the economy, RIA is holding a series of Unlocking Innovation webinars to cover the key issues in how rail can achieve net zero by 2050.

Following RIA’s first webinar on electrification, their Unlocking Innovation Routes to Zero Carbon Rail series returned on Tuesday 20 October to look at the opportunities to use low carbon, self-powered rolling stock.

The first speaker, Brian Reynolds, gave an overview of Angel Trains’ work on a hybrid solution, setting out the then-Rail Minister Jo Johnson’s challenge to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. He said that public opinion was becoming more focused on climate change, making it a significant issue for all industries.

Reynolds suggested there were a number of traction options available in decarbonising rail, including electric, hydrogen, battery and gas. But as the interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy had shown, electrifying 11,700 kilometres of rail will take time, meaning there is an opportunity for hybrid trains as an intermediate solution.

Reynolds presented Angel Trains’ Class 165 which was being upgraded to include modular batteries, traction motors and engines with new traction control systems and remote condition monitoring. The upgraded train runs on three modes, with the engine and battery providing power, with the battery only, for station entry and exit and a regenerative braking mode, which allows braking energy to be stored by the battery.

Jonathan Brown of Ricardo Rail was up next who spoke about innovation and focusing on the new. Brown divulged into the fact that often the innovations we celebrate today have already been utilised in the past. Instead, the key in whether an innovation ‘sticks’ was based on how much perceived ‘value’ it created. He referred to the 1954 Scottish Electricity Board train, he added that the value of low carbon rolling stock was far lower back then than it is now, as awareness of climate change has increased.

Brown then explored why it is perceived to be so hard to innovate in rail, including the need for products in rail to last a significant amount of time, the differing commercial interests within the industry, the need for clear policy and consistency in regulation and the need for climate change to become a bigger issue for rail passengers, as it is for those looking to buy a new car.

He further said that innovation was most likely to happen where there is a clear business case, consistent policy and market, clear understanding of value and, finally a rigorous well executed engineering development programme.  He concluded with an example of a hydrogen powered truck which was being developed in Los Angeles and would soon be moving into mass production.

Next, Mike Edwards, CEO of Motive Zero, spoke about his company’s work to reduce the level of emissions of rail freight vehicles. Freight faces a significant challenge to decarbonise as electric and diesel traction are currently the only two options for powering freight trains.

However, Motive Zero have been working to upgrade old technology diesel locomotives with clean economical hybrid electric power. Shunters like the Class 08 are being refitted, leading to an up to 95% reduction in Nitrogen Oxide emissions and 65% reduction in carbon monoxide and dioxide emissions. Interventions include regenerative braking, which can capture up to 30% of total energy capacity – the equivalent of up to 12 Tesla SuperChargers all at once.

Mike Muldoon of Alstom was the final speaker of the session. He began his presentation with the warning that whilst 2050 feels like a long time "we are already within the lifetime of one train." Though diesel offers a significant level of energy density, hydrogen offers the next best option after diesel, followed by battery, he added, suggesting hydrogen could offer a solution on lines where there is no business case to electrify.

Muldoon showed what Alstom are doing in the UK, where they have converted a Class 321 into a Class 600 "Breeze" hydrogen model. In July 2020, Alstom announced a further £1 million investment in Widnes to develop the design, preparing for an order placement with DfT sign off.

Muldoon concluded by highlighting the of hydrogen trains – the Alstom Breeze could cover around 600 miles with speeds of up to 100 mph. He ended by suggesting a Breeze would be available to order today and would be in passenger service by 2024, with the expertise being developed in the UK utilised to export the technology abroad.

The session ended with Elevator Pitches, where the audience heard from Matt Candy of Steamology on utilising energy from combining hydrogen with oxygen. They also heard from Chris Smith of G-volution, who is taking DMUs and using a G-volution optimiser to install another low carbon fuel, such as liquid natural gas.

Stuart Hillmansen spoke about HydroFLEX, the University of Birmingham and Porterbrook hydrogen train being tested in Warwickshire and finally Paul Allen of the University of Huddersfield who spoke about the development of their lab facilities, using funding from UKRRIN, including HAROLD 2.0, a new test rig for rolling stock.

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