Coalition for Sustainable Rail concludes biofuel tests at Milwaukee zoo

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The 15-inch-gauge No. 1924 works upgrade at the Milwaukee County Zoo during the Oct. 6 test.
Coalition for Sustainable Rail
MILWAUKEE – The Coalition for Sustainable Rail and the National Resources Research Institute have recorded favorable results in the last of three tests at the Milwaukee County Zoo designed to evaluate biofuel alternatives designed for use in steam locomotives.

The tests are the culmination of a process to develop and produce appropriate fuel at the Renewable Energy Lab in Coleraine, Minn., that lasted more than a year and a half. The Nov. 6 trials on the 15-inch gauge railroad tested and recorded data from two different types of fuel: Torrefied biomass with a binder added to shape it into pellets, and a 50-50 blend of coal and biofuel.

“[The biomass] worked quite well in both locomotives,” Coalition for Sustainable Rail President Davidson Ward says. “Both fuels burned nearly identical to coal, including building a decent coal bed on the grates and maintaining pressure under a wide variety of operational circumstances, while being nearly smoke and odor free.”

As the production and transportation of coal increasingly caters to the needs of bulk consumers, the quantities and grades appropriate for use in steam locomotives have become more expensive to purchase. Some tourist railroad operators see developing alternatives to coal attractive as much as a way to control their budget as their carbon footprint. The materials used in these tests achieved a milestone in reaching temperatures more than 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, comparable to those produced by coal.

“Following the first trials, our researchers set about devising a better method to densify the material, including acquiring an industrial scale densification machine that we installed at our lab in Coleraine,” explained National Resources Research Institute Associate Director and Coalition for Sustainable Rail Board Member Don Fosnacht, Ph.D. “Combined with a food-grade binding agent, we were able to make dense, pill-shaped pellets for use with these zoo test trials that burned exactly like coal.”

The Coalition for Sustainable Rail and National Resources Research Institute are producing 10 tons of the biofuel, which will be transported to Pennsylvania and used to test-fire standard-gauge Everett Railroad 2-6-0 No. 11 in early 2018. In support of these tests, the Coalition will see donations matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis (up to $10,000) until Dec. 15. To donate, go to or mail to Coalition for Sustainable Rail, P.O. Box 3214 Duluth, MN 55803.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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