Design, testing, and performance of the world’s first fuel cell mine vehicle - a production locomotive

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 97, No. 1083, 2004

M.C. Bétournay, G. Desrivières, P. Laliberté, J. Chan, B. Replogle, A.R. Miller, D.L. Barnes, H. Bursey, D. Sprott and T. MacKinnon

A fuel cell mine production locomotive has been designed and tested in the context of a number of mining proof-of-concept projects. The mining industry is poised to take advantage of the benefits of fuel cells to address pressing issues such as underground air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and operating costs. The locomotive’s simple electric-powered motor and controller system was ideal to study hydrogen power plant operation, underground use, risk and regulatory requirements, comparison to the conventional battery-powered version, and power plant design improvements for other fuel cell vehicles. Full consideration of the locomotive power system was required before the fuel cell power plant was designed and built: the motor controller, motor design, and motor-towheels gear. Ultimately, a new generation of locomotive, the Warren Equipment NexTec1, was designed to more efficiently transmit the fuel cell power required to optimize haulage needs. The motor was designed and built with a flat performance curve, enabling smooth torque output over a wide operating range. The Icon III Battery Electric motor controller was selected for its advanced safety features and power management design. The drive train consisted of a single series wound motor, directly driving a double enveloping worm gear set with a transmission to a second drive train that mounted the brake disc. The scope of the work also included the building and testing of a hydrogen power plant to power the locomotive. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells generated the electrical power. These are supplied with fuel (hydrogen), an oxidant (oxygen), cooling lines for temperature control, and power lines connected to the electrical load. A hydride bed provided a steady supply of hydrogen during operation (stored at low pressure, ~3 bar). The power plant control system monitored the current demand from the power plant and regulated its functions. It also included safety features such as hydrogen overpressure and leak detectors with interlocks, stack warning lights, and a siren for feedback on hydrogen and water conditions. Preliminary tests carried out at CANMET’s Mining and Mineral Sciences Laboratories’ Experimental mine in Val d’Or, Quebec, demonstrated the safety and viability of the vehicle for mine production. Subsequently, locomotive production performance tests were carried out at Campbell mine in Balmertown, Ontario. The unit and four-ton side-dump cars operated in production for 29.7 hours with the fuel cell power plant and 6.5 hours with the traditional battery pack. A number of parameters were evaluated to compare the battery and fuel cell versions as well as evaluate the latter’s power plant performance and safety. Over 1000 t of material were hauled over a total distance of 65 km. The fuel cell locomotive proved to be as reliable as the battery version. The maximum 200 motor amps pre-set in the fuel cell power plant controller gave greater voltage and maximum speed than the battery version, but the latter, with 350 motor amps, tended to greater acceleration in the lower speeds. The fuel cell power plant gave steady 100% power for about 8.5 hours of operation. The battery power began to fade ahead of its seven-hour charge capability. The fuel cell power plant did not suffer any breakdowns and no hazardous incidents occurred. The testing program has clearly demonstrated that a conventional fuel cell power plant design with proton exchange membrane (PEM) type fuel cells is satisfactory for underground vehicle applications in routine production tasks.
Keywords: Design, Testing, Fuel cell, Production locomotive