The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment describes the science of renewable coal.
CSR Project 130 has a simple goal: create the world’s cleanest, most powerful passenger locomotive, proving the viability of solid biofuel and modern steam locomotive technology. The Coalition will put its technology to the test by planning to break the world record for steam locomotive speed, reaching 130 miles per hour and demonstrating the viability of this revolutionary, clean transportation technology.

The locomotive will run on torrefied biomass (biocoal), a biofuel created through an energy-efficient processing of cellulosic biomass. Biocoal exhibits the same energy density and material handling properties as coal, but unlike coal, it is carbon neutral, contains no heavy metals, and produces less ash, smoke and volatile off-gases. Since it exhibits such similar characteristics to coal, biocoal has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States generates clean electricity.
The effects of commercial production of biocoal on the freight railroad infrastructure, which exists to move existing fossil fuel coal from mine to market will provide an opportunity for all sorts of research.

I wish, though, that promoters of advanced-technology steam locomotives (the Project 130 simply being the latest; there was a serious effort in the 1980s to develop a freight locomotive, and there's a model in HO scale, for an HO modeler with a lot of discretionary income) would understand the capabilities of the competition.
Preliminary research shows that CSR’s test locomotive will cost less to maintain and less to fuel, and will exhibit greater train handling performance than any diesel-electric locomotives available today. The modern steam locomotive has relied on technology that has been neglected for decades. This is about to change. With the ability to burn biocoal efficiently and without negative impact on the environment, CSR’s modern steam locomotive will also exhibit significantly better horsepower output at higher speeds than the current diesel-electric locomotives that pull the majority of passenger trains in the United States.
Might be wise for the technical team to ask some Milwaukee Road veterans about Fast Fifteen: any world speed record Milwaukee holds for steam locomotives was quickly rendered moot by a standard prewar E-6 diesel set. Might also be wise to talk to the British, where a diesel train that might have inspired a line in an Elton John song attained something like 145 mph on a test run, and thirty years later the production version still cruises at 125 on Brunel's billiard table.


Halloween Lover said...

I found your article to be very interesting. I am a strong believer in the USA getting a stronger "home: energy policy.

The cleaner coal is another step in that direction.

Just wondering where the name "Cold Spring Shops" came from?

Thanks for the read. John at www.google-keywords.org

owner said...

Sounds like a fun project. But I believe one of the reasons for the phase-out of steam locomotives was that the action of the driving wheels was very hard on track, resulting in high maintenance expenses. If they're planning to use a reciprocating steam engine as in the original locomotive, surely this version will have the same problem.

David Foster

Stephen Karlson said...

Yes, The Milwaukee Road instructed engineers of Hiawathas not to exceed 100 mph with the steamers, even though the locomotives were capable of sustained running at speeds the British could only imagine, because the dynamic augment was making more work for the track maintainers than the railroad wanted to schedule. The Santa Fe engine has machinery similar to Milwaukee's, and would have the same problem. But it's a test bed. Perhaps the production locomotive will have a balanced drive (such as Great Western's Kings and Castles) or some of the ideas for smoother running mooted in the American Coal Enterprises designs of the 1980s. Or, who knows, carbon-fiber connecting rods that don't have as much mass.