Rolls-Royce and Porterbrook investigate low-carbon rail

1 min read

Rolls-Royce and Porterbrook are working together 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 investigate the potential of synthetic and net zero fuels, including hydrogen in fuel cells and internal combustion engines. Building on their recent success of jointly introducing hybrid battery-diesel railcars into passenger service, the two companies will also explore the potential for advanced hybridisation.

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, Rolls-Royce, said: “We have extensive experience of rail technology and are able to draw upon expertise from across our business in new net zero and zero emissions 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 further understand the options for decarbonising rail transport.”

Britain’s railway accounts for approximately one per cent 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 achieve a net zero rail network by 2050 via routes including hydrogen, fuel cells, batteries, hybrid-electric and sustainable fuels.

Rolls-Royce Power Systems has been active in this field having already developed the hybrid-electric mtu Hybrid PowerPack, which recently entered commercial service in the UK with Chiltern Railways on HybridFLEX trains, supplied by Porterbrook, which reduce CO2 emissions by up to 25 per cent.

Power Systems is developing engines for power generation which can run on hydrogen and is also working on fuel cells to be used for power supply in ships and heavy-duty off-highway vehicles. Last year, the division committed to releasing new generations of its most popular diesel engines for use with sustainable fuels by 2023. From next year it plans to have conversion kits available which enable mtu Series 4000 engines to run on hydrogen.

Alongside 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 that can operate under electric, battery and hydrogen power.