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Collaboration between Rolls-Royce and Porterbrook will accelerate rail decarbonisation.

Rolls-Royce and Porterbrook are collaborating to find and develop technology breakthroughs that will reduce carbon emissions and enhance air quality across the rail network. The two businesses have signed a memorandum of understanding to look into the use of synthetic and net zero fuels, such as hydrogen, in both fuel cells and internal combustion engines. The two businesses will investigate the possibility for enhanced hybridisation, building on their recent success in jointly delivering hybrid battery-diesel railcars into passenger service.

The link also takes into account the role of the broader rail ecosystem in decarbonisation, such as fuel supply chains, infrastructure, and operating models that can help with innovation and the transition to net zero emissions.

The railway sector in the UK emits about 1% of total domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions*, and the government’s goal is to phase out all diesel-only trains – both passenger and freight – by 2040 and create a net zero rail network by 2050. Alternative kinds of power, such as hydrogen, fuel cells, batteries, hybrid-electric vehicles, and sustainable fuels, have been recognised by the UK government as possible paths to this goal.

Warren East, CEO, Rolls-Royce, said:

“We have extensive experience of rail technology and are able to draw upon expertise from across our business in new net zero and zero emissions technologies for safety critical applications. We are committed to helping our customers make the transition to net zero by enabling them to use our current and future products in a way that is compatible with emissions reduction, and this relationship with Porterbrook will help us further understand the options for decarbonising rail transport. For us, playing a leading role in enabling the energy transition is both a societal imperative and a very significant commercial opportunity.”

Mary Grant, CEO, Porterbrook, said:

“We have been at the forefront of developing alternative traction systems for rolling stock over recent years, through our innovations and long-term asset management approach. Our partnership with Rolls-Royce will mean that we continue to lead the UK’s rail sector in sustainable solutions, by leveraging expertise across industries on the pathway to net zero.”

With its mtu-branded engines in service across five continents, Rolls Royce’s Power Systems business has decades of experience in providing rail drive solutions. The company has been working on new environmentally friendly solutions, such as the hybrid-electric mtu. Hybrid PowerPack for use on the rails. Chiltern Railways’ HybridFLEX trains, which are supplied by Porterbrook, have recently entered commercial service in the UK, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 25%. Power Systems is already working on a range of hydrogen-fueled engines for power generation, as well as fuel cells that produce electricity for use as a reliable power source in ships and heavy-duty off-highway vehicles.

Last year, Power Systems announced that by 2023, it would release new generations of its most popular diesel engines for use with sustainable fuels, including the mtu Series 4000 engines, which are currently used in locomotives operating in Siberia and the Australian outback. It plans to offer conversion kits for mtu Series 4000 engines starting next year, allowing them to run on 100 percent hydrogen.

Porterbrook owns nearly a quarter of the national passenger rail fleet and has around 4,000 vehicles on lease or on order at any given time. The company is known for delivering cutting-edge technology like battery, hybrid, and hydrogen-powered trains. The company also developed HydroFLEX, the first hydrogen-powered train to run on the UK’s mainline network, in addition to the HybridFLEX and other hybrid trains in commercial service. It is the world’s first ‘tri-mode’ train because it can run on electric, battery, and hydrogen power. Porterbrook was recently named Transport Sector Leader in the annual Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) assessment, which compares the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance of real estate and infrastructure organisations around the world. (

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