Trialling greener fuels to help build the sustainable transport network of the future

Iarnród Éireann and its network mechanical maintenance contractor Rhomberg Sersa Ireland Ltd have been trialling the use of Hydro-Treated Vegetable Oil (HVO) in on-track maintenance machinery.

HVO, a renewable diesel replacement, is produced using vegetable oils and fats, and has the potential to be a direct alternative to traditional diesel currently used in many rail maintenance vehicles and existing diesel locomotives.

For Iarnród Éireann, trialling HVO as a diesel alternative is a key milestone in its ambitious decarbonisation plan, essential to building the sustainable transport network of the future and meeting the Government’s target of a 51% reduction in carbon emissions for the transport sector by 2030.

If the trials are successful, the use of HVO for Iarnród Éireann vehicles will mean 90% less carbon emissions on HVO fuelled vehicles when compared to diesel, and potentially saying farewell to the use of traditional diesel to power corporate vehicles and diesel locomotives, subject to wider successful trials.

The trial started with fuelling an on-track ballast cleaning machine with a 75% diesel, 25% HVO fuel mix and the machine operated normally without any performance issues. The blend of HVO is now being increased and performance continually appraised. Ultimately, the intention is that the machine will be operated with 100% HVO and demonstrate no adverse outcomes. Subject to a successful trial, other maintenance vehicles will then be converted to HVO fuel.

The three on track ballast maintenance vehicles being used in this trial account for approximately 45% of the annual on track machine fuel usage, consuming 61,500 litres of diesel in 2022. The transition of these three vehicles alone to HVO would result in a carbon emission saving of 148,500kg CO2 eq per annum compared to continued use of diesel.

In addition, Iarnród Éireann is currently in discussions with fuel companies to undertake a rail HVO trial on some existing diesel locomotives.

Other initiatives

The HVO trial is in addition to various other decarbonisation initiatives being carried out by Iarnród Éireann currently:

  • The planned trebling of the electrified network under the DART+ Programme is key to reaching 2030 decarbonisation goals. Longer term plans underway to extend this further ultimately seeing electrification of some of the major national rail lines.
  • Delivery of new rolling stock as part of a 10-year framework agreement with rail manufacturer Alstom to supply up to 750 new rail carriages under the DART+ Fleet project, will mean Iarnród Éireann have the ability to retire older diesel fleet, subject to the relevant funding approvals and critical infrastructure upgrades being achieved
  • A B7 bio-fuel blend has recently been rolled out for the existing diesel rail fleet, with further plans in progress to use of B20 or higher, subject to successful trials, cost considerations and fuel availability.
  • Trials are underway to modify the existing Intercity fleet engines, including gearbox / transmission upgrades and hybrid components and battery packs.
  • Works are ongoing to develop a fleet specification to replace the existing Enterprise fleet
  • Green Hydrogen is also being considered as a fuel source with an ongoing project underway to convert two locomotives to Hydrogen fuel for trial operations on Tara Mines freight trains.
  • Review underway of Iarnród Éireann’s building stock to establish the potential for local renewable energy generation through the installation of solar panels. Depending on the outcome of initial case studies, this could be rolled out across the network on a phased basis, subject to funding, with a view to harnessing renewable energy to help contribute to the company’s electricity usage.
  • A Corporate Power Purchase Agreement (CPPA) consultant has been engaged to assist in procuring a partner to enter into a Power Purchase agreement with to support sustainability ambitions
  • Ongoing building stock assessment to establish the energy upgrades required to improve existing building energy ratings typically from BER-G to BER-B/C
  • Trials of HVO in our road fleet are underway, with an aim to transition all vehicles to electric or HVO.