L&BR Trials Ecoal Update

Published: 8th May, 2022

Rapeseed Oil Briquettes Trialled at the L&B

A trial of a potential coal replacement fuel, using the residue (called expeller) of cold pressing Rapeseed, has taken place. This fuel comes in the form of briquettes and is produced by Grovetree Group, part of the Phoenix Group of companies, based in Nottingham.

A quantity of the briquettes was offered free of charge for trialling by company secretary, Phil Thompson, who personally delivered the fuel to Woody Bay.

1.Phil Thompson of Grovetree Group delivers the trial briquettes.
A rapeseed expeller briquette alongside a pound coin to give some idea of size.

This initial trial took place, using LYN, on April 29th, with our Resident Engineer, John Uphill, driving.

As with Ecoal, the time taken to raise steam was somewhat longer but LYN then steamed freely and, after an initial run light-engine to Killington Lane, then returned to Woody Bay and readily did two return trips using three coaches. Little ash was produced by the briquettes which produce a distinctive, not unpleasant, smell.

John reported that the fuel was a suitable coal replacement and will do another trial on a midweek, normal operating day to gain further knowledge.

One drawback of the briquettes is that they must be kept dry which could present difficulties with North Devon’s weather. 

Further trials with coal and biofuel.

The trials with Ecoal reported in the news item last November have now taken place.

Our General Manager, Stuart Nelhams, reports that the trials took place over two days, just before Christmas, using LYN steamed with Ecoal on the first day followed by Welsh Steam Coal on the second day.

The results were encouraging, with LYN steaming freely and producing little ash, though more time was required to bring the loco to working steam pressure. The fuel did produce a rather strong smell but otherwise Stuart concluded it would be possible to use Ecoal as it is currently constituted.

Two new possibilities to replace the currently used Welsh steam coal from Fros-Y-Fran are to be trialed at the L&BR:

Hargreaves Energy, the supplier of Fros-Y-Fran coal, have developed a new product specifically for the steam railway sector called Trevithick Welsh Steaming Ovoids. This product has already been trialed at one of the Welsh narrow gauge railways where it was found to provide good heat with very little ash and clinker produced. Though declared a success in use, the product is approximately twice the cost of Welsh Steam Coal at £432/tonne.

A more innovative product offered, free of charge, to the L&BR for trial, comes from Phoenix Speciality Oils Ltd of Nottingham. This company produces rapeseed oil by environmentally friendly cold-pressing, which leaves a residue called “expeller” still containing about 15% available oil. Currently this residue is used as animal feed, or pressed into briquettes for domestic fires.

The L&BR was approached by the company to join 2 or 3 other railways in testing specially shaped and constituted briquettes for steam locomotives, an offer which has been accepted, along with a free stainless steel firebox arch to temporarily fit to LYN to ensure efficient combustion of the fuel.

Our thanks are due to Phil Thompson of Phoenix Oils, who admits to his enthusiasm for narrow-gauge railways, for the offer to take part in the trial. The cost of the briquettes is thought likely to be more than Welsh Steam Coal but less than Ecoal.

It is still early days in the search for a sustainable, efficient fuel to power our steam locomotives but a necessary process in our aim to bring the operational L & B to net carbon neutral status.


Paul Curson
Environment & Conservation Trustee