Environment

CSR project aims to create a high-speed, carbon-neutral steam-powered locomotive

CSR project aims to create a h...
Locomotive 3463, the 75 year-old test bed locomotive for CSR's Project 130
Locomotive 3463, the 75 year-old test bed locomotive for CSR's Project 130
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Locomotive 3463, the 75 year-old test bed locomotive for CSR's Project 130
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Locomotive 3463, the 75 year-old test bed locomotive for CSR's Project 130

You might think that a coal-burning locomotive built in 1937 had nothing left to offer the modern rail industry, short of being a nice museum piece. In the case of Locomotive 3463, however, that appears to be far from true – now in the hands of engineers from the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR), it is set to become the world’s first carbon-neutral higher-speed locomotive. It won’t be electric, however. Instead, it will run on steam generated by the burning of biocoal.

CSR is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the nonprofit Sustainable Rail International (SRI). The group’s current CSR Project 130 has one goal – to create “the world’s cleanest, most powerful passenger locomotive, proving the viability of solid biofuel and modern steam locomotive technology.” The “130” in the name comes from the fact that part of the project will involve an attempt at breaking the world record for steam locomotive speed, by pushing the very-overhauled locomotive to at least 130 mph (209 km/h).

Locomotive 3463 was donated to CSR by the Great Overland Station Museum in Topeka, Kansas, in November of last year. While it originally ran on plain old mined-from-the-earth coal, it will be adapted to burn biocoal – a biomass-derived solid fuel with an energy density and handling properties similar to those of coal, but that contains no heavy metals, and produces less ash, smoke and volatile off-gases. Additionally, it’s carbon neutral, meaning that it releases no more carbon when being burned than was originally absorbed by the plants that it’s made from.

CSR’s early research suggests that the test locomotive will be cheaper to fuel and maintain than regular diesel-electric models, while also offering quicker acceleration and better horsepower output at higher speeds ... and, of course, it will run cleaner. If the demonstration project is successful, however, trains could be merely a starting point for biocoal-fueled steam power.

“Once perfected, creating the world’s first carbon-neutral locomotive will be just the beginning for this technology which, we hope, will later be used for combined heat and power energy in the developing world as well as reducing the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels,” said IonE’s Rod Larkins.

Sources: University of Minnesota, Coalition for Sustainable Rail

24 comments
L1ma
May be better to create a LPG version as well. The US is flush with gas at the moment.
Nantha
I LOVE THIS !!! This is innovation, technology and history all rolled into one winning idea. Bring back the glory of steam engines... There are so many affcionados of Steam engines and now we have an excuse to bring some back, with a clear conscience. Never mind the detailed mathematics. This is a great comeback excuse for the steam engine. May we have a few more around the world. Not too many. Cant wait to travel on one of these.
nicho
I have a few observations. Firstly by definition all coal is bio-coal. Secondly it won't be carbon neutral. Carbon neutral means taking out of the atmosphere as much carbon as you put in. It does not mean putting in as much as the original biomass took out.
Todd Dunning
L1ma you're right about LPG which exists in huge quantities for a fraction of the cost of "biocoal". It could even make this neat, creative idea a success. Who wouldn't want to see these great locomotives live again? But since LPG is neither trendy nor cool - and worse, our parents used it - this inspired project will end up in the Eco-dustbin with the rest of the "carbon neutral" punchlines.
fruitsalad
Carbon neutral ?? Does that include all the energy it takes to produce the biocoal in the first place? What a joke
William H Lanteigne
Wood burning steam engines would also be "carbon neutral." It doesn't mean they wouldn't create pollution.
Bill Bennett
aerodynamic as a sheet of 4x8 sheet of plywood
agulesin
caught my eye - in those days all the working parts were outside, with a plain box on the inside. These days all the working parts are inside, plain box outside! @Bill Bennett - ever tried dropping it sideways? goes like a bullet until it turns against the airflow!
Alan Halfhill
I would love to see this idea come to being. Steam locomotives are living machines.
Bruce H. Anderson
LPG would mean a tank car instead of a coal car. Maybe not as easy to refuel, since it requires swaping out a car vs. dumping some coal from a hopper (hooking up a hose would take forever). But I bet a tanker would carry more energy than a coal bin. And a small auxillary tank could hold enough fuel so that the engine could shuttle around and swap cars. Slap a smooth skin on that bad boy and it just might be a winner.