How can Hydrogen Support the Decarbonisation of Locomotives?
Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail and DIGAS have signed a contract to retrofit a freight diesel locomotive from diesel fuel to hydrogen as proof of concept. How does this collaboration demonstrate a practical path towards complete decarbonisation of locomotives?

The operator of the national railway network of Ireland and provider of passenger and freight rail services, Iarnród Éireann has said that the purpose of the £1.5 million project is to help decarbonise its diesel locomotive operations.

It is hoped that the collaboration will assist the company in meeting its sustainability goals, increase its competitiveness, and reduce carbon exhaust emissions.

The project will support Ireland in decarbonising its transportation

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.

Jim Meade, Chief Executive of Iarnród Éireann explained that the project could help unlock green potential for locomotives.

He said: “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.”

Continuing, Jim expressed that the project reflects how important becoming more sustainable is for the company: “Iarnród Éireann is a designated champion of the state’s commitment to the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals.”

We are committed to taking a leading role in supporting the Irish Government’s ambitions to decarbonise transportation sector by 2040.

The project will see hydrogen be used in the locomotive’s current internal combustion engine. This technology requires minimal change to be done to the locomotive if successful.

It is currently in the design process and is 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).

A more practical way to decarbonise locomotives will be showcased

Petro Dumenko, CEO & Co-founder of DIGAS highlighted that it is excited to have Iarnród Éireann as its partner on the project: “Among other reasons, Iarnród Éireann management is really committed to decarbonisation of their operations. This project is proof to that commitment not only in words, but also in actions.

“Therefore, in spite of the aggressive timeline in front of us, together we feel confident in our joint ability to make this historic step towards sustainable mobility in a timely manner.”

He then said that the project will provide much-needed learning for the rail industry: “We see the same challenge over and over again with all railway operators – the need to decarbonise 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 decarbonise their existing fleet of diesel locomotives.

The project is funded by Iarnród Éireann and DIGAS, and co-funded by EIT Urban Mobility, a body of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and Mechanical Engineering Competence Center, a Latvian body receiving funding from the European Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Work under the contract has commenced on both sides with an objective to test a retrofitted hydrogen locomotive in 2024.

As part of the agreement, Iarnród Éireann will bring the partners into the project who will provide hydrogen refueling for the retrofitted locomotive.