COLORADO-based Vehicle Projects Ltd has completed the first two years of a project to develop a prototype fuel cell locomotive, and hopes to start construction in 2006.

Launched in May 2003, the project is being sponsored by the US Department of Defense, and administered by the US Army Research Development & Engineering Command's National Automotive Center in Michigan. The intention is to convert an existing Army-owned diesel-electric locomotive to fuel cell propulsion, with eight 150 kW modules providing an installed power of 1·2 MW.

According to the company's Vice-President David Barnes, the formal authorisation for the third year of the programme was due to be signed off at the end of July.

Vehicle Projects has selected four contractors to develop major components, with AeroVironment of California leading design of the power plant and Nuvera Fuel Cells of Italy the PEM fuel cell stacks. Hera Hydrogen Systems of Québec is responsible for the onboard metal hydride fuel storage and MesoFuel of New Mexico the hydrogen generation system.

According to Barnes, the project team has been concentrating in the first two years on preliminary design of the hardware, with particular emphasis on the fuel storage technology. The third year will see the design of the power plant finalised and the construction of a single fuel cell module for testing. There will also be further work on the metal hydride storage and a start will be made on the layout of the heat transfer and cooling equipment. If all goes well, Barnes anticipates that 'we will start building the hardware' during the fourth year of the project starting in mid-2006.