Rolls-Royce in rail decarbonization deal

By Mike Brezonick14 February 2022

Rolls-Royce is teaming up with UK rail rolling stock owner and asset manager Porterbrook, to identify and develop technological innovations to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality across the rail network.

The two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding to investigate the potential for the use of synthetic and net zero fuels, including hydrogen, both 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 hybridization.

Rolls-Royce Rolls-Royce has signed an MOU with Porterbrook aimed at decarbonizing the UK rail network. (Photo: Rolls-Royce)

The relationship also includes considering the role of the wider rail ecosystem in decarbonization, including fuel chain supply, infrastructure and operational models that can aid innovation and the transition to net zero.

According to the UK government, rail accounts for approximately 1% of all domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the government’s ambition is to remove all diesel-only trains – both passenger and freight – from the network by 2040 and achieve a net zero rail network by 2050.

Rolls-Royce, through its Power Systems business, has decades of experience in providing drive solutions for rail with its mtu-branded engines in service across five continents. The company has been developing new sustainable solutions including the hybrid-electric mtu Hybrid PowerPack for rail use. That technology recently entered commercial service in the UK with Chiltern Railways on HybridFlex trains, supplied by Porterbrook, which reduce CO2 emissions by up to 25%.

Rolls-Royce Power Systems is also developing a range of engines for power generation which can run on hydrogen and is working on fuel cells.

“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,” said Warren East, CEO, Rolls-Royce. “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 decarbonizing rail transport. For us, playing a leading role in enabling the energy transition is both a societal imperative and a very significant commercial opportunity.”

Porterbrook owns almost a quarter of the national passenger rail fleet and currently has around 4000 vehicles on lease or on order. The business has an established reputation for delivering new technologies, such as battery, hybrid and hydrogen powered trains. Alongside the Hybridflex and other hybrid trains in commercial service, the company has developed HydroFlex, the first hydrogen-powered train to run on the UK’s mainline network. It can operate under electric, battery and hydrogen power. 

“We have been at the forefront of developing alternative traction systems for rolling stock over recent years, through our innovations and long-term asset management approach,” said Mary Grant, CEO, Porterbrook. “Our partnership with Rolls-Royce will mean that we continue to lead the UK’s rail sector in sustainable solutions, by leveraging expertise across industries on the pathway to net zero.”

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