Historic steam tram maiden voyage on organic coal

Published on

Local biomass as a sustainable fuel for the historical steam tram

Under the watchful eye of the press, interested parties and a group of school children, a historic tram of Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik has made its first tram journey on an alternative fuel. Not only did the passengers travel through the West Frisian country in a steam tram, but this steam tram was also powered by organic coal instead of regular, fossil coal. Aldermen Harry Nederpelt (municipality of Medemblik) and Samir Bashara (municipality of Hoorn), both responsible for the sustainability portfolio, were present at this European first.


In the Netherlands there are several steam locomotives powered by coal. In Western Europe these often have a cultural history function for tourists. The museum ‘Museumstoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik’ has the largest collection of serviceably restored steam locomotives that were operated in the Netherlands in the past. The use of fossil coal as fuel for steam trams is finite. As part of the ‘Green Steam Tram’ project, a sustainable alternative has been developed for the coal used for the steam locomotives.




Present, past and future
How do you steer the steam tram into the next, sustainable era while at the same time preserving the old-fashioned, museological character of steam energy technology? This question has become increasingly relevant to Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik. After all, the use of fossil coals – the traditional fuel of the steam locomotive – is under increasing pressure from environmental considerations. Last year, the steam tram museum joined forces with the organisations of ECN, Ontwikkelingsbedrijf Noord-Holland Noord and New Energy Coalition to look for a sustainable alternative. This groundbreaking project was funded by the municipalities of Hoorn and Medemblik.

“Steam locomotives only use a fraction of the coal of a coal-fired power station. But we are in the public eye. In 2019, we hosted 166,000 passengers. We feel a responsibility to take the growing environmental awareness upon ourselves and to further propagate it to the public”, says museum director René van den Broeke.


Museum director René van den Broeke: “The experience remains intact. The stoker throws coal on the fire and the fumes come out of the chimney. Further tests and research will have to show whether organic coal can be used for all steam locomotives in the Netherlands”.

Further research
The joint research led to organic coal, compressed (torrefied) wood or biomass. This product is very similar to fossil coals, without the release of  harmful substances during combustion, such as nitrogen and sulphur compounds. Unlike other alternatives, organic coal can be used by means of small modifications to the steam tram.
The process of torrefaction converts wood or wet biomass into a product that is very similar to coal, but with much better properties. The emission of harmful substances is virtually reduced to zero and the fuel is CO2 neutral because it is made from biomass. In addition, the bio carbon can be produced regionally from available biomass streams.
The DTC (Dutch Thermochemical Cluster) and InVesta (the expertise centre for biomass gasification and green gas), together with the Museumstoomtram Hoorn-Medemblik, facilitate this application of bio coal in steam locomotives.

Emission comparisons
The conclusion of several tests runs prior to the ride of 14 February is that organic coal is a sustainable alternative to coal in steam locomotives. Emissions of nitrogen and sulphur compounds have been significantly reduced with the use of the new fuel. For example, the production process is very energy-efficient, less harmful substances are released during combustion, it leaves less ashes residues and there is less slag formation. Production costs are comparable.

Van den Broeke is very pleased with the result: “The experience remains intact. The stoker throws coal on the fire and the fumes come out of the chimney. Further tests and research will have to show whether biocoal can be used for all steam locomotives in the Netherlands”.

About Stroomtrammuseum Hoorn-Medemblik
The Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik manages the steam tram collection and offers visitors a historical travel experience. The Museum Steam Tram Hoorn-Medemblik is the registered museum, which preserves the history of the steam tram in the Netherlands on the basis of a collection with accompanying knowledge, which is collected, managed, preserved and presented in a museum-like manner. This collection and knowledge are primarily used to offer an authentic Dutch historical travel experience to a wide audience, in an educationally responsible manner. The work will be carried out by volunteers as much as possible.