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Union Pacific to test higher biodiesel blends on Wabtec locomotives

Initiative part of effort to up percentage of low-carbon fuels to 10% by 2025 and 20% by 2030

A Union Pacific train at a crossing. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Union Pacific will be testing higher biodiesel blends for the locomotives it acquired from Wabtec as part of UP’s wider efforts to increase the consumption of low-carbon fuels over the next eight years.

Starting in the second quarter, UP (NYSE: UP) will be testing B20 biodiesel and R55 renewable diesel on Wabtec FDL engines operating in California, with plans to up the percentage of biofuels used as testing continues. 

The initiative is tied to UP’s wider plan to increase the percentage of low-carbon fuels consumed to 10% of total diesel consumption by 2025 and 20% by 2030, UP said Tuesday. This goal lines up with UP’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Increasing the use of renewable diesels and biofuels currently represents the most promising avenue to help Union Pacific meet its environmental goals,” said Beth Whited, UP executive vice president for sustainability and strategy. “We want to drive emissions down as quickly as possible, and we believe this new project with Wabtec will make a difference.”

Wabtec’s (NYSE: WAB) locomotive engines have been approved to run on B5 R30, or fuel consisting of 5% biodiesel and 30% renewable diesel.

Said Bob Bremmer, group vice president for Wabtec’s fleet innovation and transformation division, “Union Pacific has a comprehensive ESG [environmental, social and governance] initiative, which includes the exploration of alternative fuels and emerging technologies. Biodiesel and renewable diesel are important sustainable solutions for the rail industry both in the near term and in the future.”

The biofuels announcement comes as the railroad said it reduced its overall fuel consumption for the third year in a row in 2021. UP’s fuel consumption rate, measured in gallons of fuel per thousand gross ton-miles, improved by 1% in 2021, UP said in late February

UP attributed the fuel efficiency gains to a number of factors, including identifying ways to reduce idling engines and ensuring that the optimal horsepower is used to haul freight, UP said last month. UP also expanded its use of energy management systems on nearly 2,900 locomotives. The technology functions like cruise control, in which the throttle and dynamic brake system can be controlled automatically, UP said. UP plans to finish installing this technology on all of its high-horsepower locomotive fleet by 2024. 

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.