The Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR) announced Tuesday plans to create the world’s first carbon-neutral higher-speed locomotive.
The plan is simple: “create the world’s cleanest, most powerful passenger locomotive, proving the viability of solid biofuel and modern steam locomotive technology.” The CSR, a collaboration of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the nonprofit Sustainable Rail International (SRI), plans to put its technology to the test by attempting to break the world record for steam locomotive speed.
The locomotive is set to run on torrefied biomass (biocoal) — a biofuel created through an energy-efficient processing of cellulosic biomass. Biocoal has the same energy density and material handling properties as coal, but is a carbon-neutral fuel, contains no heavy metals, and produces less ash, smoke, and volatile off-gasses. The successful use of biocoal in this manner has implications well beyond the locomotive industry, with possible uses in the developing world.
“Participation in the Coalition for Sustainable Rail has enabled our team to pursue one of the more exciting and potentially groundbreaking research projects in the history of IonE,” said Rod Larkins, Special Projects Director of IonE’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. “Once perfected, creating the world’s first carbon-neutral locomotive will be just the beginning for this technology which, we hope, will later be used for combined heat and power energy in the developing world as well as reducing the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels.”
The preliminary research shows that CSR’s test locomotive will cost less to maintain and less to fuel, and will exhibit greater train-handling performance than any diesel-electric locomotives available today.
“This project presents a novel approach to U.S. locomotive development, looking to technologies of the past to inspire solutions for today’s sustainability challenges,” said SRI President Davidson Ward, a 2010 graduate of the School of Architecture in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. “I’m confident that the leading energy researchers we’re working with at the University of Minnesota, along with our team of engineers, will be able to bring this technology to the forefront of America’s energy and transportation conversations.”
In November 2011, SRI acquired a large test bed steam locomotive through a transfer of ownership from the Great Overland Station Museum in Topeka, Kan. This locomotive, built in 1937 for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, will be reconfigured by SRI’s locomotive modernization experts, then tested as part of CSR Project 130.