The UK passenger and freight rail industries consumed 2,282 kilotonnes of CO2 between April 2021 and March 2022 – showing a rise of 2% in the total estimated CO2 emissions compared to the year before.1 As demand for freight and public transport increases, carbon reduction in emissions in this critical sector is high on the government agenda.

Tackling the issue head-on, technology innovator, G-volution Ltd, in conjunction with COLAS Rail UK, used Crestchic load banks to test the use of a new carbon reduction solution. The technology in question uses a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) to power auxiliary electric power requirements in rail applications, which account for around 10-15% of the total power demand on freight trains. The project is funded by the Department for Transport through the First of a Kind 2022 competition, delivered by Innovate UK.

Paul Howard, Engineering Director at G-volution, comments on the challenges faced by the UK rail industry and the significance of this project:

“Statistically speaking, 25% of all UK passenger trains and 90% of freight trains are diesel-powered. Through the ‘Transport Decarbonisation Plan’, the government has committed to delivering a net zero rail network by 2050. And, while there is a move to remove diesel trains as part of the longer-term plan, it is vital that the industry makes incremental and sustained carbon reductions along the way. As well as providing a greener power source to fulfil auxiliary electric power requirements, the technology will remove the need for diesel powertrains to remain powered up or idling during dwell times, which can cause up to 20% of freight locomotive fuel consumption and emissions.”

Cleaner, greener, and cheaper to operate

G-volution’s concept is based on using a SOFC to supply the auxiliary load required on a Class 37 locomotive. Whilst the engine itself remains diesel powered, auxiliary power is used for various essential on-board systems, including the locomotive’s lighting systems, including headlights, marker lights, and cab lights; the control systems; heating and ventilation; auxiliary equipment such as fans, pumps, compressors, and motors; and the onboard communication systems.

By powering these systems using a greener source of energy, the overall emissions of the locomotive can be reduced significantly. It also means that engines can be switched off when locomotives are in the station, reducing emissions while still having access to auxiliary power for all other on-board requirements.

Importantly, the fuel cells can be combined with dual fuel operation of the diesel engine to provide additional carbon-saving benefits for vehicle operators, offering futureproof options for additional deployment going forwards.

Paul continues: “Like other Freight Operating Companies, Colas Rail has a dependency on heritage locomotive fleets such as the Class 37s. In Colas Rail’s case, this is to support their customer, Network Rail, with data collection, a nationwide operation across the whole of the GB Network. Class 37s are the only locomotive that can do this job due to their low axle weight and RA5 gauge acceptance. The integration of SOFC technology is an exciting prospect for Colas Rail, allowing one of the oldest locomotives on the network to use what could be one of the most efficient power transfer systems available utilising a lower carbon non-fossil fuel.”

carbon reduction by crestchic loadbanksCrestchic load banks used to gather critical emissions data

As a proof of concept, G-volution used three 350/700V DC 667kW Crestchic load banks, connected in parallel, to simulate the load generated by the Class 37 diesel locomotive when fuelled by conventional diesel.

By performing the tests, engineers were able to directly measure emissions, including nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and particulate emissions. With Solid Oxide Fuel Cells known to be virtually free of NOx, SOx, and particulate matter emissions, G-volution was able to use the load bank to gather the data required to prove the concept.

The load banks were equipped with Crestchic’s Corona/Fusion software to allow constant voltage/current function and data capture plus a handheld Terminal controller for ease of use.

Paul continues: “Live tests of this nature require a significant financial and logistical investment, so we needed to be confident that the load banks we were using would perform without fault and give us the data we needed to successfully prove the concept.”

Bringing co-consumption to the rail market

No stranger to carbon reduction projects in the rail industry, G-volution previously developed the Optimiser™ System, a dual-fuel technology that enables diesel engines to combust diesel and Natural Gas (or other greener and cheaper fuels, Bio-LPG, Bio-methane, or Hydrogen) simultaneously, which saves approximately 20%+ on fuel costs and reduces some emissions by up to 90%. The auxiliary power project with Colas Rail was part of the First of a Kind competition 2022, in partnership with Innovate UK, which focused on new concepts that will help to decarbonise the network.

Paul Brickman, Commercial Director, for Crestchic loadbanks concludes:

“G-volution’s technology paves the way for decarbonisation of a historic industry in the UK. Using our load banks to simulate the power load of a locomotive in order to test the efficacy of alternative fuels is the latest exciting project Crestchic has supported for the renewables sector. This is important work for the decarbonisation of major industries and we are proud to play our part in that transition.”

Need load bank testing for your carbon reduction project?

For support employing load bank testing for your decarbonisation project, speak to the Crestchic team today on +44 (0) 1283 531 645 or visit the website here.