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Canadian Pacific launches hydrogen-powered locomotive project

‘Globally significant project’ could revolutionize locomotive technology

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) is starting a pilot project to develop a hydrogen-powered locomotive.

As concerns for the environment rise, freight transporter companies face increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If successful, Canadian Pacific (CP) would be the first company in North America to run a line-haul hydrogen-powered locomotive, a release announcing the project on Friday said.

One of CP’s line-haul locomotives will be retrofitted with hydrogen fuel cells and battery technology, which will power the locomotive’s electric traction motors, according to the release. 

The company noted that the majority of railway operators in North America use diesel-powered units, contributing to GHG emissions for the industry. Industrywide use of hydrogen-powered locomotives could potentially lower emissions; however, the company did not specify whether it will use green hydrogen or conventional hydrogen, which would impact the overall GHG emissions for the project. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, conventional hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, while green hydrogen production relies on renewable energy.

CP plans to conduct rail service trials and qualification testing to gauge how conducive the technology is for the freight-rail sector once the hydrogen-powered locomotive is operational. The release did not disclose a timeline for the pilot project.

“This is a globally significant project that positions CP at the leading edge of decarbonizing the freight transportation sector,” Keith Creel, president and chief executive officer at CP, said in a statement. “CP will continue to focus on finding innovative solutions to transform our operations and adapt our business, positioning CP and our industry as leaders for a sustainable future.”

CP declined to comment on the pilot project beyond the contents of the press release. 

The company was recognized as a leader on climate action with an A- rating from the Carbon Disclosure Project earlier this month for disclosing GHG emission data and committing to establish a science-based target for reducing emissions.

CP is not the first major railway to test hydrogen-powered locomotives. BNSF ran tests with an experimental hydrogen fuel cell switch locomotive in 2008 and 2009, according to a report. The federal government along with researchers such as those at Michigan State University have been studying the deployment of hydrogen-powered locomotives for years.

There are several hydrogen projects in the works for transportation. Airbus recently released three zero-emission aircraft concepts powered by hydrogen. Plug Power is extending its partnership with Walmart to provide hydrogen solutions for Walmart’s e-commerce market. Nikola is trying to get cheap access to electricity in Arizona so that it can expand its network of hydrogen charging stations.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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One Comment

  1. Stephen Webster

    Very happy to see this move to tryout hydrogen. Also think that natural gas powered trains might work . Trains have advantage over trucks can just switch out the first railcar giving the ability to go much longer distances between fill ups and save time.

Comments are closed.

Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.