Monday, October 1, 2012

CN Tests Natural Gas Locomotive

Canadian National Railroad has retrofitted two existing diesel locomotives to run on natural gas as the first step of a larger feasibility test for converting locomotives to gas (news release).  Technically hybrids, the engines will run on 90% natural gas and 10% diesel fuel (for ignition).  Ironically, the two locos will run the 300 mile oil sands route between production in Ft. McMurray and a pipeline hub in Edmonton.  Encana will provide the fueling and maintenance in Edmonton.  As the photo below shows, the liquefied gas is contained in a separate tank car.

The second phase of the test project is to develop an engine and gas tender car specifically for natural gas (as opposed to retrofitting a diesel), which will be undertaken by Electro-Motive Diesel (a Caterpillar Co. subsidiary), Westport Innovations, Inc. and Gaz Metro of Quebec.  A roadworthy prototype should be ready by 2014.  To help fund the project, the Canadian government's Sustainable Development Technology Canada program provided Westport with  C$2.3 million of funding.

The push for natural gas is, well, a natural for railroads.  They run fixed, predictable routes, spew lots of air pollution and have a firm view of the bottom line.  CN estimates that the new hybrid engine "would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 70 per cent over a locomotive duty cycle."  While the company didn't mention it in its press release, I'd wager that using natural gas over diesel will also save the company money.  This project is certainly no done deal, but it will be interesting to follow.

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