Natural Gas Powered Locomotives

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Natural Gas Powered Locomotives
Posted by JoeBlow on Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:16 AM

Are any railroads besides BNSF experimenting with natural gas powered locomotives? 

 

Also, what is the status of BNSF's NGL experimental locomotive?

 

Thanks

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Posted by Domer66 on Sunday, January 24, 2016 1:00 PM

Going from memory here, but I think Trains had a photo of FEC running two of their new ES44C4s with a NG car in between feeding both locos. I believe all 20 C4's have GE's Next Fuel capability. I think that photo was a test run between Tallahasee and St. Augustine. Can't remember the source, but I read somwhere that BNSF had split their ES44C4 from the NG car and ACE unit to have the GE unit go to the various shop forces for NG familiarization.

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Posted by kgbw49 on Sunday, January 24, 2016 1:13 PM

CN experimented with two SD40-2s but I don't know the status...

BNSF similarly uses a modified tank car in their testing...

FEC is using the LNG "Container" in a container well car approach - I suppose given the shorter running distance of their line the LNG containers are basically captive so can be smaller and moveable with a container-handler unit...

FEC 801 FEC 300 GECX 3000 ADD FEC 816

I am surmising that once LNG is fully deployed, the "standard" FEC road consist will end up looking somewhat like the first three units in the picture - ES44C4-LNG Tender-ES44C4 with the ES44C4s connected via their back ends to the LNG tender. We shall see what happens.

Long term, however, while diesel fuel and oil prices are down now, if one considers a 30 year or even 40 year working life of the ES44C4 fleet for FEC, LNG is still probably going to be the lower cost fuel over the long run, and of course will have lower emissions.

It will be interesting to see how the well car tender holds up to the constant "front end" stresses of long trains. Granted, in an 11,000 foot stack train, a well car has to be right behind the locomotives, but it is probably a different well car at the front end every time. Perhaps they will eventually have to mount the LNG container atop a "road-slug-style" locomotive frame - maybe then they can even power the axles. Time will tell. Fun stuff!

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Posted by DSchmitt on Sunday, January 24, 2016 1:13 PM

From  https://www.up.com/cs/groups/public/@uprr/documents/up_pdf_nativedocs/pdf_up_emg_lng_facts.pdf   dated 10/2015

"Union Pacific is planning to test LNG as a fuel source for locomotives in 2016, although exact timing is not yet determined. As the routes for the testing are planned, Union Pacific officials will meet with community leaders and first responders in all the areas where testing may take place to discuss all applicable safety precautions"

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Posted by SD70M-2Dude on Sunday, January 24, 2016 3:26 PM

CN quit using the tank car based tender over a year ago, and constructed 2 new ones based off a well car.  But they have been stored in the Edmonton dead line for some time, so I wouldn't be surprised if they have ended the test program.

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Posted by SALfan on Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:55 PM

Domer66

Going from memory here, but I think Trains had a photo of FEC running two of their new ES44C4s with a NG car in between feeding both locos. I believe all 20 C4's have GE's Next Fuel capability. I think that photo was a test run between Tallahasee and St. Augustine. Can't remember the source, but I read somwhere that BNSF had split their ES44C4 from the NG car and ACE unit to have the GE unit go to the various shop forces for NG familiarization.

 

The FEC wouldn't have been running from St. Augustine to Tallahassee.  The line from Jacksonville thru Tallahassee is CSX.  FEC runs between Jacksonville and Miami, thru St. Augustine.

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Posted by tdmidget on Monday, January 25, 2016 2:17 AM

These are mostly "feel good" "look good" projects. One must consider that Natural gas has about 60-70% of the BTU content of Diesel.

This is why you must have the tender, a locomotive cannot carry the BTU equivalent in natural gas. Then you will need 3 power units instead of 2. Don't count on seeing a lot of these.

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Monday, January 25, 2016 7:28 AM

     Hasn't this always been talked about as an alternative to expensive diesel fuel?  Does the drop in fuel prices mean a (big?) drop in interest in this technology?

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Monday, January 25, 2016 7:35 AM

tdmidget

These are mostly "feel good" "look good" projects. One must consider that Natural gas has about 60-70% of the BTU content of Diesel.

This is why you must have the tender, a locomotive cannot carry the BTU equivalent in natural gas. Then you will need 3 power units instead of 2. Don't count on seeing a lot of these.

 

  Using your math, the gas would require between 43% and 67% more gas tank space on a locomotive to carry the equivalent BTU's of energy.  As I understood it, part of the tender being bigger has to do with keeping the gas pressurized(?)  Also, I thought I understood it that these tenders would allow locomotives to go much farther between fueling stops, hence the tender sized gas tank.

     I can't picture that you would need an extra locomotive for one extra car.  And besides, that tender is full of gas.  How much does that gas weigh?

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Posted by CShaveRR on Monday, January 25, 2016 9:51 AM

The gas is under pressure, so it weighs plenty.  I'm not sure whether we're talking CNG or LNG here; it looks like they're liquefying it by cooling it, so the cooling apparatus also weighs a bit.  Still, it's one car--shouldn't always be the tipping factor.

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, January 25, 2016 10:16 AM
I interpret Mr. Midget to be saying that the third unit is needed to make up for the lower BTU content of natural gas compared to diesel; as opposed to a need for extra power to haul the fuel tender. 
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Posted by Murphy Siding on Monday, January 25, 2016 11:18 AM

     Rather than the gas making the locomotive perform at only 60%-70% of the horsepower it would produce with diesel fuel, I picture the technology being tweaked to force 43%-67% more gas into the engine and retain the same horsepower.  If gas use cut the available horsepower by 30%-40%, I couldn't see the railroads having any interest at all.

     Another factor may be related to working for cleaner emissions.  Maybe the gas powered locomotive is Tier whatever compliable already?

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Monday, January 25, 2016 11:19 AM

CShaveRR

The gas is under pressure, so it weighs plenty.  I'm not sure whether we're talking CNG or LNG here; it looks like they're liquefying it by cooling it, so the cooling apparatus also weighs a bit.  Still, it's one car--shouldn't always be the tipping factor.

 

  That's right, I forgot it's liqufied gas.  As Marty McFly would say "that's pretty heavy man".

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, January 25, 2016 11:30 AM

Murphy Siding

     Rather than the gas making the locomotive perform at only 60%-70% of the horsepower it would produce with diesel fuel, I picture the technology being tweaked to force 43%-67% more gas into the engine and retain the same horsepower.  If gas use cut the available horsepower by 30%-40%, I couldn't see the railroads having any interest at all.

     Another factor may be related to working for cleaner emissions.  Maybe the gas powered locomotive is Tier whatever compliable already?

 

That is a good question as to whether the existing diesel engine can be made to burn natural gas fast enough to get the rated diesel horsepower.  If it can't, could a new natural gas engine be developed to fit into the same carbody and deliver the same horsepower as a diesel engine?  Maybe that is the plan, but I don't know if it is. 

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Posted by Norm48327 on Monday, January 25, 2016 11:58 AM

This should keep you busy for a while.

http://www.arb.ca.gov/railyard/ryagreement/112807lngqa.pdf

Norm


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Posted by NorthWest on Monday, January 25, 2016 12:42 PM

Feasability aside, I think there is a bit of prudent wait-and-see on the part of the railroads. Currently there is a glut of natural gas, but as fracking production has been somewhat curtailed recently and a lot of power plants have switched from coal this cheap gas won't last forever and may be gone soon.

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Posted by creepycrank on Monday, January 25, 2016 2:44 PM

Euclid
That is a good question as to whether the existing diesel engine can be made to burn natural gas fast enough to get the rated diesel horsepower.  If it can't, could a new natural gas engine be developed to fit into the same carbody and deliver the same horsepower as a diesel engine?  Maybe that is the plan, but I don't know if it is. 

From what I know about the earlier ECI conversions of the BN SD40's is that the engines are "Dual Fuel" that is to still be compression ignition they squirt in 10% diesel fuel which burns igniting the gas charge. The other modifications are that the compression ratio was reduced fro 14.5 to 12.5 to prevent detonation of the gas and they also put in a separate aftercooling system like the new engines have, to try to regain the lost power from using NG.

ECI has designed a 100% gas engine that has spark plugs instead of fuel injectors but to make a stocimetric mixture they have to use a throttle like your car has. Of course now its not a diesel.

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Posted by Wizlish on Monday, January 25, 2016 9:00 PM

Euclid
That is a good question as to whether the existing diesel engine can be made to burn natural gas fast enough to get the rated diesel horsepower. If it can't, could a new natural gas engine be developed to fit into the same carbody and deliver the same horsepower as a diesel engine? Maybe that is the plan, but I don't know if it is.

Can't and won't, from first principles.

Natural gas as you know has lower heat content, so you're going to 'equal' the heat release per stroke only two ways: increase displacement, or increase engine speed. 

The latter is impractical for a variety of reasons, starting with reliable engine construction itself and extending to the connected alternator, which is not really designed to spin faster in service.  That leaves increasing bore, which requires different power assemblies and increases the piston mass, or stroke, which screws up its own set of things like peak inertial load and rod angularity.  Don't expect either of those 'just' so you can burn natural gas.

Meanwhile, if I'm not mistaken, the degree to which you can pressure-charge a natural gas engine is greatly restricted vs. what a diesel that meters a liquid fuel into an above-critical air mass.  So cranking up the boost isn't likely to get you 'there', either, even if higher boost pressures could be accommodated in these large engines without crippling increase in weight, or else occasional bomblike 'spontaneous disassembly events'.   Injecting LNG as a 'critical liquid' is an interesting possibility ... but as someone on RyPN recently said in a different context, if you put this on a unit "you can find me in a trailing unit checking the dates on the fire extinguishers"...  Laser ignition is a bit more promising than spark ignition as it gives you the ability to initiate polynucleate combustion (like what happens in good diesel direct injection) but the power to generate the necessary laser 'kernels' within the cylinder is pretty high, and has to be derived from some source powered by the engine.

The situation with a high-speed engine like the C175 or QSK may be different.  Cat has built spark-ignition natural-gas-burning engines of locomotive size for many years -- there was one on the crew tank at Princeton in my father's day.  Presumably there is better technology, although I cheerfully defer to people like entropy who have distinctive competence and experience with recent Cat or Cummins tech.

If you want to maintain the engine as a 'dual-fuel' construction, assume it will be derated (similar to how motor vehicles are derated when converted to burn CNG or LNG) and almost certainly assume that the engine will continue to require a small percentage of liquid fuel, injected through the 'regular' system, as the necessary promotion and ignition source.

There are other technologies to burn cryomethane that ought to produce higher horsepower within the confines of a regular carbody.  Some of this stuff may or may not still be classified, but I suspect that just as the whole market for brazed titanium airframes never developed, the whole market for high-output pulse detonation engines that burn liquid CH4 has largely vanished.  That's a shame, because what I've seen of the technology was fun.  But if free-piston engines failed largely because of the tract noise ... just imagine the situation with shockwave compression ignition in each cylinder 30 or more times per second...

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Posted by erikem on Monday, January 25, 2016 11:56 PM

I'd wonder if the best solution for a natral gas locomotive would be to stick a couple of gas turbines in the carbody. Having two would allow for one to be shut down for extended runnng at run 4 or less. The low weight of the turbines could also allow for the installation of a battery such as GE was working for hybrid locomotives.

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Posted by rdamon on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 6:36 AM
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Posted by carnej1 on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 11:08 AM

erikem

I'd wonder if the best solution for a natral gas locomotive would be to stick a couple of gas turbines in the carbody. Having two would allow for one to be shut down for extended runnng at run 4 or less. The low weight of the turbines could also allow for the installation of a battery such as GE was working for hybrid locomotives.

 

The Russians thinks so; GE ,Progress/EMD and the North American Class 1's instead want dual fuel versions of existing locomotives using more standard (for locomotives) engine technology.

Railpower was trying to market a CNG powered road locomotives a few years back..

I do wonder if Natural Gas fueled turbines would meet Tier IV standards, are they similiar in emissions to a Dual Fuel Diesel/Gas engine?

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Posted by erikem on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 11:26 PM

carnej1

 I do wonder if Natural Gas fueled turbines would meet Tier IV standards, are they similiar in emissions to a Dual Fuel Diesel/Gas engine?

 

Good question, don't have a definite answer on that one. OTOH, gas turbines run lean and thus should have low CO and unburned HC in the exhaust, smoke (particulates) hasn't been an issue for the last few decades, which leaves NOx. The NOx can be reduced with steam injection, which also improves efficiency. The exhaust heat can be used to generate steam, which should significantly reduce the exhaust gas temperature.

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Posted by Domer66 on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 11:53 PM

Oops, that is what happens every time I try to rely on my old memory. Time does a number on us all.

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Posted by carnej1 on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 11:17 AM

erikem

 

 
carnej1

 I do wonder if Natural Gas fueled turbines would meet Tier IV standards, are they similiar in emissions to a Dual Fuel Diesel/Gas engine?

 

 

Good question, don't have a definite answer on that one. OTOH, gas turbines run lean and thus should have low CO and unburned HC in the exhaust, smoke (particulates) hasn't been an issue for the last few decades, which leaves NOx. The NOx can be reduced with steam injection, which also improves efficiency. The exhaust heat can be used to generate steam, which should significantly reduce the exhaust gas temperature.

 - Erik

 

I don't know about putting a steam bottoming system on a gas turbine locomotive (though I have seen a patent for a combined cycle locomotive). I seem to recall reading somewhere that there are also liquid agents similiar to Urea/SCR (maybe the same) that are used in turbine applications to control emissions.

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Posted by caldreamer on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 12:36 PM

UP's gas turbines used Bunker C (heavy) oil.  They found that the turbines used as much fuel ideling as they did in run 8.  As far as dual fuel diesle locomotives go, there is very little if any change to the injection system necessary.  With today's computerized control systems it seems to work pretty well. The BNSF is training there people how to handle duel fuel locomotives.                                                        

A

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Posted by erikem on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 11:42 PM

carnej1

 I don't know about putting a steam bottoming system on a gas turbine locomotive (though I have seen a patent for a combined cycle locomotive). I seem to recall reading somewhere that there are also liquid agents similiar to Urea/SCR (maybe the same) that are used in turbine applications to control emissions.

 

Steam injection, not steam bottoming. This was stirring up quite a bit of interest in the 1980's - I have a 27 year old flyer about the Allison 501-KH turbine showing a 40% increase in output power and a 13% decrease in specific fuel consumption. NOx reduction comes from the steam cooling the combustion gases, much the way that EGR works in piston engines.

The downside is the necessity of dragging the water along.

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Posted by carnej1 on Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:24 AM

erikem

 

 
carnej1

 I don't know about putting a steam bottoming system on a gas turbine locomotive (though I have seen a patent for a combined cycle locomotive). I seem to recall reading somewhere that there are also liquid agents similiar to Urea/SCR (maybe the same) that are used in turbine applications to control emissions.

 

 

Steam injection, not steam bottoming. This was stirring up quite a bit of interest in the 1980's - I have a 27 year old flyer about the Allison 501-KH turbine showing a 40% increase in output power and a 13% decrease in specific fuel consumption. NOx reduction comes from the steam cooling the combustion gases, much the way that EGR works in piston engines.

The downside is the necessity of dragging the water along.

 

 I googled around a bit and found that in fact there are Gas turbines on the market for applications such as marine propulsion of high speed vessels and backup power that can meet Tier IV and do not need steam injection to do so.

 GE is offering Tier IV compliant gas turbines for Marine usage with no steam system. They mention "Dry Low Emissions"(DLE) burner technology as the key.

Cat subsidiary Solar Turbines calls their modified burner system SoLoNOx...

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, January 28, 2016 7:40 PM

A recent example of the problem with Natural Gas powered vehicles, in this case a truck.

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/breaking/Trash-Truck-Fire-Trenton-366596361.html

 

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Posted by Wizlish on Saturday, January 30, 2016 8:24 AM

All of y'all that are working on CNG for locomotives -- Ross, that specifically includes you! -- need to watch this a couple of times.  And perhaps scale the effect appropriately.

This would not happen this way with LNG.

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Posted by erikem on Sunday, January 31, 2016 2:40 PM

carnej1

 I googled around a bit and found that in fact there are Gas turbines on the market for applications such as marine propulsion of high speed vessels and backup power that can meet Tier IV and do not need steam injection to do so.

 GE is offering Tier IV compliant gas turbines for Marine usage with no steam system. They mention "Dry Low Emissions"(DLE) burner technology as the key.

Cat subsidiary Solar Turbines calls their modified burner system SoLoNOx...

 

I would be very surprised if there wasn't a means of meeting Tier IV standards without steam injection, as it does add a fair amount of complication as well as being a "no-go" issue for a lot of customers. I brought up steam injection as a potential benefit of using turbines as it lowers SFC as well as cooling the exhaust. The latter point is in respect to stories aboout what happened when one of the UP's big blows was stopped below a bridge. OTOH, it is quite possible that the liabilities of using steam injection would outweigh the benefits for locomotive applications.

 - Erik

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