General Motors announced Tuesday it will supply batteries and hydrogen fuel-cell systems for fully-electric freight locomotives following a successful test in California.

BNSF Railway began testing a 100% battery-powered locomotive on the main line between Stockton and Barstow in January.

Built by Pittsburgh-based Wabtec, the FLXdrive all-electric locomotive saved over 6,200 gallons of diesel fuel and prevented nearly 70 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions during the test.

“The rail industry is on the cusp of a sustainable transformation with the introduction of batteries and hydrogen to power locomotive fleets,” said Wabtec Chief Executive Rafael Santana.

The 430,000-pound locomotive, with a battery capacity of 2.4 megawatt hours, uses 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells

Electric motors are particularly suited for heavy trains because they offer much higher torque at low speed than internal combustion engines. In fact, most of today’s so-called diesel locomotives are actually powered by electric motors, with diesel engines driving generators to supply power.

Wabtec said it intends to build a second generation locomotive, with deliveries starting in 2023. GM will supply its Ultium electric batteries and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel-cell power cubes.

“Wabtec’s decision to deploy GM’s Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel-cell systems further validates our advanced technology,” GM President Mark Reuss said.

The batteries will be made by the company’s joint venture with South Korea battery maker LG Energy Solution, which is building plants in Ohio and Tennessee. The hydrogen fuel-cell systems will be assembled by GM’s joint venture with Honda in Brownstown, Michigan.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.