CN Progress on LNG Trains

October 14, 2012 in LNG, Rail by Rich Piellisch  |  No Comments

Alberta ECI Locomotive Trials Affirmed on Alberta Route,
InoxCVA Tapped as Railroad Sees HPDI for Longer Term

CN – Canadian National Railway – has confirmed trials of an LNG-fueled train in Alberta using technology from ECI, Washington State’s Energy Conversions, Inc. CN says that for the longer term, it’s working with Westport Innovations, Gaz Metro, and Caterpillar’s EMD unit on high pressure direct injection technology, and on a standardized railway tender, or LNG fuel car.

One LNG tender car, with vaporizer, serves two ECI-converted SD40-2 locomotives operated by CN.

InoxCVA is supplying the liquefied natural gas tank for the latter project, which is to see an initial engine run next year and locomotive trials in 2014.

The motive? About $12 billion spent by North America railroads in 2012, for some 3.7 billion gallons of diesel. Natural gas has the long-term potential to cut that bill in half, CN assistant VP for environment and sustainability Normand Pellerin said at the HHP Summit in Houston.

‘If It Proves Viable’

The railroad’s testing of the ECI technology on a train ranging from Edmonton to Fort McMurray (HHP Insight, September 21), “reflects CN’s continuing drive to look for ways to improve operating efficiency and advance the company’s sustainability agenda,” CN executive VP and COO Keith Creel said in a September 27 release. The environmental advantages are significant, Creel said – “if the railway technology employing this form of energy ultimately proves viable.”

Two more views of the ECI-converted CN train (photos courtesy Energy Conversions, Inc.)

“We’re working on the technology,” Pellerin said in Houston. “What we are looking at is trade-offs.” The tender car is a challenge, he said. For the ECI trials, CN is using a tender that was revamped by Chart Industries (with fuel supplied by Encana). The design includes a vaporizer so that liquid gas does not have to be carried over a coupler from fuel car to locomotive.

Inclusion of multiple tenders on trains will be costly – they are expected to cost perhaps $1 million each – not only for the equipment itself but because each takes the place of a freight-carrying car, meaning a loss of revenue. “It is still worth the effort,” Pellerin said.

Looking beyond the ECI trials to the work with Westport Innovations, Gaz Metro, and Caterpillar’s EMD, “An innovative natural gas tender,” CNG says, “will be jointly developed by the project partners.”

Commonality is a challenge. “You have to have interchangeability with other railroads,” Pellerin said. Aside from the tender, he noted that CN itself operates different types of locomotives, both two- and four-stroke.

LNG to Haul Coal

Another question is diesel displacement, whether there will be enough to make it all pay. CN’s target is 85% substitution by natural gas across the board – difficult when engines idle for 35 to 40% of time, and idle mostly on diesel. That means 95% displacement at full throttle to bring the average up.

Target range, Pellerin said, is 2,200 miles. As for initial deployment, “The best routes that we can see right now are the coal routes.”

“We can pretty well match the diesel range,” Westport Innovations high horsepower partner development director David Mumford said at the Summit in Houston. He said that Westport is working on a further development of its high pressure direct injection – HPDI – technology for truck engines for the rail application, and that the first engine will run next year.

CN is providing two 4,300-horsepower SD70M-2 EMD locomotives for the test program.

A tale of three diesels –€“ standard diesel injector seen with Westport Innovations’€™ existing two-fuel HDPI unit, and Westport’€™s developmental HDPI injector for locomotive use.

The HPDI engine is expected to power one of them for the first time in 2014. Most of the testing is likely to be in Quebec, Mumford said.

Westport has a funding commitment of $2.3 million from the Canadian government’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada program to develop the HPDI technology for high-horsepower applications.

“The substantial price difference between natural gas and diesel fuel is resulting in a strong financial incentive to enable off-road applications to take advantage of low natural gas energy costs without sacrificing operational performance,” Westport CEO David Demers said in a release when its work with Caterpillar was announced earlier this year.

“We believe natural gas is the fuel of the future,” said Martin Blanchet of Quebec-based Gaz Metro. He also detailed the utility’s support of LNG-fueled trucks and ferries (HHP Insight, August 13) at the Houston conference.

InoxCVA is supplying a standard, 10,000 gallon ISO tank for the developmental tender car, Blanchet said. The goal for filling it is 45 to 60 minutes, with 30 minutes for the actual transfer of LNG. Tenders built so that their LNG tanks can be swapped are a possibility, he said. A year-long trial of the refueling system is to start in July, he said, with durability of the tender pump a critical issue.

‘Very Conservative’

“Natural gas has been on the radar for decades,” said Larry Rodney, locomotive systems engineer with EMD. “With fuel prices on the rise, we think natural gas is the way to go.” He too enumerated challenges, among them infrastructure, flexibility, safety perception/education, onboard fuel storage and standardization.

A bigger challenge? CN says it already leads the North American rail industry in fuel efficiency, “consuming close to 15% less fuel per gross-ton-mile overall than the industry average.”

CN is “a very conservative company,” said Pellerin. He also used the term “soul-searching.” And, he said in an HHP Summit plenary session, “We have a 70-years love affair with diesel.”

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Source: HHP Summit conference sessions, with HHP Insight follow-up

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