Can an old, restored steam locomotive be the harbinger for a new era in cleaner train travel? That’s what a Minnesota based collaboration between the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the nonprofit Sustainable Rail International (SRI) are betting on, unveiling plans via their new Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR) for a biofuel powered, carbon-neutral locomotive.
While it could be argued high speed rail (HSR) is a cleaner option for trains versus one making use of biofuels, a combination of prohibitive costs and infrastructure challenges make HSR domestically a not always favorable option. Also, in many parts of the developing world, HSR, for the same reasons, will never be a reality. That leaves the need for more regular, cleaner burning locomotives to take to the tracks.
The CSR plan calls for making use of torrefied biomass (biocoal), a biofuel created through “an energy-efficient processing” of cellulosic biomass, as the fuel source. Biocoal is described by the groups behind this as effectively being carbon neutral – compared to regular coal anyhow – as well as containing no heavy metals and producing less ash, smoke and volatile off-gases.
CSR Project 130, as it is called, has the goal of creating not only the world’s cleanest locomotive to prove the viability of solid biofuel and modern steam locomotive technology, but also the most powerful, especially when compared to the diesel electrics commonly in use today. The vision for the technology being developed in this process is to help build a locomotive that can reach speeds of 130 miles per hour, breaking the world record for steam locomotive speed, which is currently 126 MPH.