Footage of First Torrefied Biomass-Run Train

This video shows the first run of the torrefied biomass test train on the Milwaukee County Zoo mainline, with footage of the train starting from the point the shop lead connects with the tracks and operating to the summit, approximately 1/2 mile. We have synced up the readings from the four thermocouples with the video footage, showing a second-by-second readout of combustion temperatures in the locomotive.

While watching the video, note that Zoo crew member, Ken Ristow, is hand shoveling loads of the small, torrefied biomass pellets into the firebox. The fuel pellets, which were graciously donated to CSR for these tests by New Biomass Energy, are much smaller than the coal typically used on a steam locomotive. We therefore modified the grates with stainless steel mesh to prevent the fuel from falling through the large pinholes. Due to the small size of the fuel, we could only build up a thin firebed (2" with biomass vs. 5" on coal), meaning there was less potential energy in the fire, resulting in the need to shovel more frequently than with coal. Likewise, NBE's pellets exhibited such good flowability, which is very important in stoker firing, that they were prone to slide off of the coal scoop.

CSR is working with research collaborator Natural Resources Research Institute and the Milwaukee County Zoo to schedule another round of testing later this year with larger, "puck" sized torrefied biomass briquettes to further verify the promising results produced from these initial tests. Likewise, we have been in discussion with standard gauge steam operators about performing full size tests in the future.

In all, the Milwaukee County Zoo tests were an extremely important scientific and risk mitigation step in this research. They allowed CSR the opportunity to collect comparative data on the combustion of coal vs. torrefied biomass (which will be made available in the coming months as part of a larger White Paper) and it proved that steam locomotives could make steam and operate safely using the alternative fuel. 

We could not have done these tests without the outstanding assistance of the Milwaukee County Zoo, the Natural Resources Research Institute, New Biomass Energy, the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, and the support of CSR's donors, including generous contributions by Bon French and Fred Gullette.

If you'd like to help make the next set of tests happen, please consider: