Stargate Hydrogen locomotives on track for Operail

By Helen Adams
Retrofitting ageing diesel locomotives to zero-carbon alternatives is an economically sustainable solution, says Stargate Hydrogen

Hydrogen solutions company OÜ Stargate Hydrogen has signed a letter of intent with AS Operail, the international rail company, to convert diesel-electric locomotives to zero-emission fuel cell electric locomotives.

Both companies are headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia and export from Scandinavia to Russia. 


Locomotives converted from diesel to zero emission

As part of the retrofit, the diesel gensets that power the locomotives will be replaced by a zero emission powertrain, consisting of:

  • Polymer-electrolyte-membrane fuel cells 
  • Lithium-ion batteries

After the conversion, the locomotives will operate as shunting locomotives.

The partnership with Operail is planned in two phases:

  • A prototype of a fuel cell electric locomotive will be constructed by the end of 2022
  • Then, an additional 40 locomotives will be converted to fuel cell power

Each converted locomotive will save 370 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 80 average passenger cars.


Economically sustainable zero carbon alternatives

Rainer Küngas, Chief Technology Officer at Stargate Hydrogen, is excited at the prospect of retrofitting. 

“Retrofitting ageing diesel locomotives to zero-carbon alternatives is already an economically sustainable solution and will be even more so in the future”, explained Küngas. “Retrofitting also allows the reuse of existing diesel-electric locomotives that would otherwise end up as stranded assets once they no longer meet future emission standards.”

Operail has focused its activities on environmental sustainability. 

"In Estonia, this is achieved via electrification of the main railway lines, but this does not resolve the issue of emissions in shunting operations”, explained Raul Toomsalu, Chairman of the Management Board at Operail. “The team at Stargate Hydrogen has outstanding international experience and world-class technological capabilities, while our professionals at the Tapa depot have the skills and knowledge for building modern locomotives. As a result of this collaboration, we can offer innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions in all our target markets.”

Henrik Hololei, Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission, feels strongly that even if rail is already largely electrified, energy-efficient and our most sustainable transport mode, it is certainly no time to be complacent. 

“Around 20% of our engines in the EU still run on diesel”, said Holoei. “There is no doubt that we need innovative solutions to enable the wider use of alternative fuels such as green hydrogen. We are keen on exploring, together with Shift2Rail and Fuel Cells Hydrogen Joint Undertakings, how fuel cell and hydrogen can be integrated into rail operations and how to turn ideas into actual projects and applications."


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