Iarnród Éireann and Latvia’s DIGAS to trial retrofitted hydrogen freight locomotive

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Iarnród Éireann, Ireland’s national rail network operator, and DiGas, a provider of decarbonization solutions for the railway sector, have signed a contract to retrofit a freight diesel locomotive with hydrogen power as a proof of concept.

The purpose of the €1.5m project is to help decarbonize the operations of Iarnród Éireann's diesel locomotives, assist the company in meeting its sustainability goals, increase the competitiveness of the company and reduce carbon exhaust emissions.

Based on the agreement, Iarnród Éireann will provide the 071 class diesel locomotive for the conversion as well as make the workshop available for the installation, testing and commissioning activities. DiGas, will manufacture deliver and install a hydrogen internal combustion engine (H2 ICE) retrofit kit to convert the diesel locomotive to a hydrogen powered locomotive.

The conversion will allow the locomotive to run on renewable, emissions free fuel instead of diesel fuel. As part of the agreement, the two companies will share technical and commercial information necessary for DiGas to design, manufacture, install, and support the commissioning of the hydrogen conversion kit and allow Iarnród Éireann to properly test a retrofitted locomotive. 

Unlike other hydrogen projects in the rail sector where hydrogen is used in to run locomotives via fuel cells or through specially produced hydrogen engines, this project will showcase a unique approach where hydrogen will be used in the locomotive’s current internal combustion engine.  

This innovative technology requires minimal change to be made to the locomotive If successful, the project will showcase a more practical and cost-effective way to decarbonize and run the existing diesel locomotive fleet with hydrogen powered engines.  

The project is currently in the design process and scheduled for two testing phases across 2024 and 2025. Phase 1 will be focused on static testing of the locomotion to check power and emissions output. Phase 2 will follow in 2025 and focus on service trials of the locomotion out on the rails. All designs and testing standards are subject to approval from the Commission for Railway Regulation (CRR).  

“Iarnród Éireann has 18,071 class diesel locomotives in railway operations, 12 of which are used to support freight operations. If the conversion tests are successful, these locomotives can be converted to greener and more efficient alternatives,” said Jim Meade, chief executive of Iarnród Éireann. “We are committed to taking a leading role in supporting the Irish Government ambitions to decarbonise transportation sector by 2040.” 

Petro Dumenko, CEO and co-founder of DiGas, added, “We see the same challenge over and over again with all railway operators – the need to decarbonize their operations but having an extremely long lifecycle of their assets which still runs on diesel fuel. This project will showcase a cost-effective and practical way for operators like Iarnród Éireann to decarbonize their existing fleet of diesel locomotives.”