Everett Railroad tests coal alternative

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Biofuel logs or pellets made by a Pennsylvania paper company.
Hayley Enoch
HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. — Coal might have been the fuel powering locomotives of the past, but in the future, reclaimed biomass may power the preserved steam locomotive. The weekend of Aug. 19, Everett Railroad officials tested one of these coal substitutes on 2-6-0 No. 11 and raised steam pressure ahead of the scheduled passenger trains.

"Working on the basis that energy changes form, BioFuel combines its proprietary combination of materials into compounds that serve as fuel cubes or absorbents," a Roaring Spring company representative said of the company's recycled paper-based product. "The fuel cubes, in particular, can be adjusted to meet the needs of industry, as well as for home and outdoor use."

To carry out the test, the Everett crew introduced measured quantities of biofuel into the No. 11's firebox and observed its properties compared to the amount of coal needed to raise the pressure by 5 pounds per square inch.

The results were promising, though this initial test did not involve the locomotive moving under its own power while being fired with biomass.

"The biofuel was a little bit larger in its dimensions that coal but, pound for pound, the biofuel raised more pressure, than coal does," says Zachary Hall, the Everett Railroad's chief mechanical officer.

The physical properties of a fuel are just important as its ability to raise heat and the biofuel produced a very light ash compared to what is typically left behind by coal, Hall says. The crew had no issues maintaining an ash bed while the locomotive was stationary and drafting with the blower, but future testing will determine if the biofuel can maintain a proper bed of coals while the locomotive is working hard and producing a significant draft. Hall also said that the biofuel had a satisfactory density and that the size of the pellets was ideal to allow crews to spread them around the firebox. As with coal, biofuel pellets that are too brittle or too firm can be difficult to ignite.

As far as potential drawbacks, Hall says that the Roaring Spring biofuel material loses its thermal properties if it gets wet. That may require special storage areas or tender modifications if a tourist railroad decides to invest significantly in biofuels. Future tests will also help to establish what kind of wear biofuels cause to the locomotive in the long term. Hall says that it is too soon to say if biofuel will be more cost-effective than coal when factors beyond the cost of fuel per ton are factored in. As the price of coal increases and tourist railroads find it increasingly difficult to arrange small coal shipments, though, biofuels show promise as an alternative.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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