Hydrogen solutions firm OÜ Stargate Rail has signed a letter of intent with Estonia-based railway logistics company Operail to transform diesel-electric locomotives into zero-emission fuel cell electric locomotives.

Under the retrofit project, lithium-ion batteries and a zero-emission powertrain consisting of polymer-electrolyte-membrane fuel cells will replace the diesel gensets on board the locomotives.

Once converted, these locomotives will run as shunting locomotives.

Both companies will enforce their partnership in two phases.

To begin with, a fuel cell electric locomotive’s prototype will be constructed by the end of next year.

Under the second phase of the project, the companies aim to convert an additional 40 locomotives to fuel cell power.

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By GlobalData

After transformation, each converted locomotive is expected to save 370t of CO₂ emissions annually.

Stargate Rail CTO Rainer Küngas said: “Retrofitting ageing diesel locomotives to zero-carbon alternatives is already an economically sustainable solution and will be even more so in the future. Retrofitting also allows the reuse of existing diesel-electric locomotives that would otherwise end up as stranded assets once they no longer meet future emission standards.”

Operail management board chairman Raul Toomsalu said: “Operail has focused its activities on environmental sustainability. In Estonia, this is achieved via electrification of the main railway lines, but this does not resolve the issue of emissions in shunting operations.

“The team at Stargate has outstanding international experience and world-class technological capabilities, while our professionals at the Tapa depot have the skills and knowledge for building modern locomotives. As a result of this collaboration, we can offer innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions in all our target markets.”

According to the company, the first hydrogen locomotive prototype is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

OÜ Stargate Hydrogen, a privately owned firm, works on the development of green hydrogen solutions in Estonia.

Stargate Rail’s main business involves the conversion of diesel-electric locomotives to fuel cell alternatives.

In July this year, Operail launched an LNG freight locomotive as part of its sustainability efforts.

The company converted an American General Electric C36 locomotive to enable dual-fuel operations.