Joint project “sH2unter@ports” investigates implementation of a hydrogen-powered shunting locomotive

The question of how shunting operations at the port can become climate-neutral is the focus of a new joint project conducted by six partners from the fields of science and business. The innovative research and development project was rolled out with a kick-off meeting attended by the partners in Bremen on 26 January. 

The individual partners are Elbe-Weser GmbH, a provider of rail and transport services, the Smart Mobility Institute at Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences, the Institute for Energy and Circular Economy at Bremen University of Applied Sciences, Alstom, bremenports GmbH & Co. KG and Hamburg Port Authority.

Important contribution towards carbon neutrality

The project partners have joined forces to investigate how shunting locomotives at the ports of Bremen and Hamburg can be converted to hydrogen operations. The project will investigate the prerequisites for conversion, the necessary refuelling conditions and will also clarify safety and legal issues. The objective is to conclude the project with a specific implementation plan. This project will make an important contribution to achieving carbon neutrality at the port by the year 2035.

While passenger rail transport is already largely electrified and powered by green electricity, shunting locos – particularly in port operations – cannot be electrified by means of overhead lines. Equipping the high-power shunting locomotives with batteries is not an option in view of their high energy consumption and the available energy density, the life cycle costs and charge cycles. Accordingly, hydrogen technology is an interesting consideration for shunting operations.

Powered without overhead lines

The shunting locomotives can be fuelled with green, climate-neutral hydrogen. The energy stored in the hydrogen is converted back into electricity using fuel cells or by direct combustion for instance. This electricity is then used to power the locomotive – without any need for overhead lines. The target is to find a solution that offers maximum energy efficiency.

It should be possible to apply the findings of the “sH2unter@ports” project to other ports and shunting operations, thus making an important contribution towards decarbonisation. In addition to changing over to climate-friendly shunting operations, conversion of the locomotives to hydrogen power also offers further prospects for infrastructure changes in the operation of port facilities with green hydrogen.

The research and development project is scheduled to run until 31 May 2024 and is funded by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport as part of the National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology. The funding guideline is coordinated by NOW GmbH and implemented by the project management organisation “Projektträger Jülich” (PtJ). The total project volume amounts to more than EUR 1.2 million.