CN tests natural gas-fueled locomotives

Natural gas finds a new niche

January 13, 2013

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Photograph CN Rail

The struggle to put a dent in a continental natual gas glut by finding alternative uses for the fuel is gathering momentum.

From cars to trains and home refueling applications, producers and, now, infrastructure and transportation players are throwing their weight behind proposals that would see frozen LNG compete with diesel and fuel oil.

Canadian National Railway, for example, is testing two diesel-electric locomotives fueled by natural gas (pictured at right) between Edmonton and the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray.

The retrofitted, 4,300-horsepower locomotives use 90 per cent natural gas, with 10 per cent diesel fuel for ignition, CN says. The company says it is also working with engine maker Westport Innovations Inc. and a subsidiary of Gaz Métro to design a standardized natural gas railway engine. A prototype is scheduled for road tests in 2014, CN says.

A CN spokesman says it’s too early to say whether “this form of energy is ultimately viable” as a substitute for diesel – a cautionary note echoed by market watchers.

“Prices will hold it back, but I think from an environmental perspective you’ll still see more of that movement into natural gas,” says Martin King, director of commodities research at FirstEnergy Capital Corp. “I don’t think it’s going to be explosive growth by any stretch of the imagination.”

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