Rolls-Royce and Porterbrook investigate low-carbon rail

Rolls-Royce and Porterbrook are teaming up to develop technology that will reduce carbon emissions across the rail network.

HydroFLEX is the first hydrogen-powered train to run on the UK’s mainline network (Image: Porterbrook)

The companies have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the potential of synthetic and net zero fuels, including hydrogen in fuel cells and internal combustion engines. Building on their recent success in jointly introducing hybrid battery-diesel multiple units into passenger transport, the two companies will also explore the potential for advanced hybridization.

The companies will also consider the role of the wider rail ecosystem in decarbonisation, including fuel chain supply, infrastructure and operational models.

In a statement, Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, said: “We have extensive experience in rail technology and can draw on our entire company’s expertise in new net zero and zero-emission technologies for safety-critical applications.

“We are committed to helping our customers make the transition to net zero by enabling them to use our current and future products in a way that is compatible with emissions reduction, and this relationship with Porterbrook will help us expand the options for better understand the decarbonisation of rail transport. †

The UK’s railways are responsible for around one percent of all domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the government’s ambition is to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040 and to achieve a net zero rail network by 2050 via routes with including hydrogen, fuel cells, batteries, hybrid-electric and renewable fuels.

Rolls Royce Power Systems is active in this area and has already developed the hybrid-electric mtu Hybrid PowerPack, recently put into commercial service in the UK at Chiltern Railways on HybridFLEX trains supplied by Porterbrook, which reduce CO2 emissions by up to 25 per cent.

Power Systems develops engines for power generation that can run on hydrogen and is also working on fuel cells for power supply in ships and heavy off-road vehicles. Last year, the division committed to launch new generations of its most popular diesel engines for use with sustainable fuels by 2023. From next year, conversion kits will be available that will allow mtu Series 4000 engines to run on hydrogen.

In addition to the HybridFLEX and other hybrid trains in commercial service, Porterbrook has developed HydroFLEX®the first hydrogen-powered train to run on the UK’s mainline network and can run on electricity, battery and hydrogen.

Abhishek Maheswari
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