Hydrogen generators support safe operations and protect the environment




written by

John Boone, Union Pacific Signal Manager

A hydrogen supplier has installed a new hydrogen fuel cell at the Union Pacific intersection in Louisiana.  (Caption and photo provided by UP)

A hydrogen supplier has installed a new hydrogen fuel cell at the Union Pacific intersection in Louisiana. (Caption and photo provided by UP)

The introduction of new hydrogen fuel cell generators will allow Union Pacific (UP) to continue operating safely while having a positive impact on the environment.

John Boone, General Director, Signal, UP

A backup generator is always used by the system in the event of a power outage. A common example is when a major weather event occurs, such as a hurricane or tornado. In such cases, generators provide power to the level crossing signals and gates to continue safe railway operation. UP can immediately mobilize backup generators wherever needed on the system.

Historically, these generators have been gas-powered, but last year we began testing units with hydrogen-powered fuel cells as an alternative. Hydrogen is obtained by separating H2O into its individual elements (hydrogen and oxygen) by electrolyzer technology. This completely renewable energy supply is one of the few zero-emission fuel sources on the market.

The typical gasoline generator we use emits approximately 325 pounds of CO2 every 24 hours. Hydrogen fuel cell generators, on the other hand, emit zero pounds of CO2. The only emission is water vapor, which is produced when hydrogen recombines with oxygen in the atmosphere. Using hydrogen generators in our system instead of traditional gasoline-powered generators will help UP meet its science-based goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030. Helpful.

In addition to reducing emissions, hydrogen fuel cells extend the generator’s potential operating time by 12 days between fueling events. This is an increase of 2,400%. This is especially important when there is no electricity for long periods of time, which previously required multiple refueling compared to hydrogen fuel cells.

UP installed the first seven hydrogen fuel cell generators in February 2023 and has since installed 60 more along hurricane-prone routes. These 67 locations have the potential to reduce up to 150,000 pounds of CO2 emissions annually from our network.

We’re not alone in recognizing the value of this new technology. The Texas Department of Transportation is considering installing more than 100 additional fuel cells at intersections along evacuation routes, citing their reliability, sustainability, and environmental benefits.

This article first appeared on the Inside Track section of UP’s website.

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