From Steam to Green - Union Pacific Embraces Biofuels

Large | Four UP locomotives are running on 100% biomass-based fuel

The next chapter in the history of locomotives may be written in California, where Union Pacific Railroad is leading a pilot project to determine the effectiveness of utilizing 100% biofuel with its locomotive fleet.

Four Union Pacific locomotives providing service to a San Bernardino sand and gravel mine are running on 100% biomass-based fuel – the first time in Union Pacific’s history that a locomotive is being powered solely by a renewable fuel source made from vegetable and/or animal fats.

The field test will determine the feasibility of using a blend of 80% renewable diesel and 20% biodiesel in Union Pacific’s fleet.

“Railroads are the most fuel-efficient way to move freight today, and Union Pacific is committed to making railroads even cleaner. We anticipate biofuels will play a pivotal role in helping Union Pacific reach its long-range environmental sustainability goals,” said Mark Lutz, assistant vice president-Fuel and Environmental Management, Supply Chain.

Union Pacific published a comprehensive Climate Action Plan last year, outlining its commitment to reduce absolute Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 26% by 2030, using 2018 as a baseline. As part of that plan, Union Pacific is committed to increasing its use of low-carbon fuels.

Union Pacific has two key partners in the pilot project underway at West Colton rail yard: Chevron-Renewable Energy Group, the biofuel supplier and Wabtec, the locomotive manufacturer.

The data gathered during the tests is expected to demonstrate to Wabtec and Union Pacific that the performance and reliability of their engines are comparable whether operated with biofuel or traditional, petroleum-based diesel fuel.

“We have not tested the limits on increasing biofuel blends on our locomotives and how it will impact performance and reliability of the engine. This is an important step to make sure we maintain our locomotives and reduce our GHG emissions,” said Grace Olsen, general director-Locomotive Engineering and Quality, Mechanical.

The biofuel being tested is REG UltraClean BlenD™, a B20/R80 blend – 20% biodiesel and 80% renewable diesel. Both the biodiesel and renewable diesel are produced from vegetable oils, animal fats or greases, but are manufactured differently, with renewable diesel more closely resembling a petroleum-produced diesel product.

“Union Pacific’s use of biodiesel and renewable diesel is a testament to their commitment to sustainability and provides a pathway to achieve their sustainability targets,” said Adam Sander, director of Emerging Markets at Chevron-Renewable Energy Group. “REG UltraClean BlenD™, our blend of biodiesel and renewable diesel, also enables Union Pacific to decarbonize today using existing assets and infrastructure with no significant capital investments required.”

Biofuels is the general term for all fuels made from components other than petroleum-derived products, including human and animal wastes, landfill gases and industrial wastes.

Chevron-Renewable Energy Group is a leading producer of biodiesel, based in Ames, Iowa.

“On a life cycle basis, biofuels are nearly carbon neutral. The greenhouse gases absorbed by the plants during their growth cycle offset gases emitted when they are burned for fuel,” said Lutz.

The four locomotives being tested are operating out of Union Pacific’s West Colton rail yard, transporting sand and gravel from a mine to West Colton.

All four locomotives were put through a series of baseline tests at Wabtec’s design and development hub in Erie, Pennsylvania, before making the trip to California in April and May.

Every six months, each locomotive will be evaluated based on emissions data and wear-and-tear on the engine.

The testing plan will allow Union Pacific to understand the fuel efficiency to switch to biofuels and validate its estimates for GHG emissions reductions overall. Increasing its blends of biofuels will decrease the railroad’s overall GHG emissions by 26% by 2030.

“Union Pacific understands that in addition to being a profitable company, we also have to live our environmental values each and every day and do our part to protect the environment for future generations,” said Lutz.

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