Sylt-Shuttle mit Auto-Anhängern fährt mit Biokraftstoff | © DB AG/ Faruk Hosseini

Fossil-free driving with biofuels

At Deutsche Bahn, we will be climate neutral by 2040. So we're making climate protection a priority. And yet, there are places where we cannot use electricity to bring goods and people to their destinations. We are therefore developing green solutions that help with aspects such as refueling our diesel fleet on rail and road. 

Biofuel in rail freight transport

There are still too few technical solutions to allow diesel engines to be dispensed with completely, particularly in rail freight transport, where large loads are transported. That's why we're choosing to provide our diesel fleet with alternative fuels, and so reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. As part of our Climate+ services, DB Cargo offers its customers the opportunity to make rail transport even greener, even on non-electrified routes.

Our focus is on biofuels, such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). This is produced from biological residual and waste materials. As such these do not require dedicated agricultural land, and thus do not compete with food and feed production. It is also important to us that the biofuel we use is free of palm oil. In terms of the carbon footprint, greenhouse gases are reduced by around 85% to 90% compared to conventional diesel depending on raw material composition. Their combustion in the engine releases only the CO2 that was previously extracted from the atmosphere by the plants as they grew. The rest of the greenhouse gas emissions incurred are generated when the biofuel is manufactured and transported, so in the upstream chain.

At DB Cargo, we've tested the use of 100% HVO fuel in several shunting and main-line locomotives in freight transport in Germany. The results so far have been highly positive. The engines function flawlessly and the performance is as expected.

Green refueling infrastructure

To supply our locomotives with the new fuel, we have already converted several of our refueling stations. One of the largest refueling stations nationwide is located at the classification yard in Munich North. Here, our diesel and switching locomotives now only fill up with the environmentally friendly HVO fuel. This will especially benefit DB Cargo by making switching services and the Bavarian chemical triangle's supply chain much greener. The refueling station can also be used by other rail companies too.

Biofuel is available instead of diesel at the filling station in Aulendorf

Eco-friendly Sylt Shuttle

Biofuel is also used in some of DB's long distance transport operations. Both the Sylt Shuttle car trains and the Sylt Shuttle Plus trains are fueled with 100% HVO. As a result, we avoid emitting around 7,500 metric tons of CO2 every year on the rail route between Westerland and Niebüll. The use of biofuel on the trains between Westerland and Niebüll is an important step in phasing out diesel. In the future, it is planned to also convert the few remaining long distance trains currently running on diesel to biofuel. 

  • With the Sylt Shuttle our customers travel to the island in a climate-friendly way. | © DB AG / Sylt Shuttle
  • The vehicles are refueled at DB's HVO rail refueling station at the Sylt Shuttle Terminal in Westerland. | © DB AG / Anastasia Schuster
  • Der Sylt Shuttle fährt umweltfreundlich mit Biokraftstoff | © DB AG/ Faruk Hosseini

Greener regional transport

We are making regional transport even more climate-friendly for our customers too. In the Aulendorfer Kreuz and Donau-Ostalb regional network, DB Regio and the state of Baden-Württemberg are putting the first trains running on 100% HVO on the tracks. These diesel trains do not have to be specially converted for this. They fill up their tanks at our refueling facility in Aulendorf, which we have repurposed to supply biofuel rather than diesel, and which can be used by any rail company.

In another pilot project, our DB subsidiary Kurhessenbahn and the Nordhessischer VerkehrsVerbund (NVV) are using environmentally friendly HVO. To this end, DB Energie has expanded the offer at the refueling facility in Kassel, so that trains can also access biofuel here. The regional trains of the Schwarzatalbahn in Thuringia are also running on HVO in a pilot project. The trains are refueled at the refueling facility in Katzhütte, which was upgraded for this purpose by DB Energie.

In addition, we send around 20 trains on the Sauerland network by rail with biofuel. To this end, we have set up a mobile tank container in Fröndenberg to supply HVO to our multiple units on the RB 54 line. In the future, we also want to use biofuel at other locations throughout Germany. In this way, we are making regional and local trains, which are already environmentally friendly, even greener and more attractive for our passengers.

In a pilot project, seven trains powered by climate-friendly HVO are running for the first time with Südostbayernbahn. The trains are being used on the Gäuboden line from Neufahrn to Bogen via Straubing and on the Rottal line from Mühldorf to Passau. DB Energie GmbH has equipped a refueling facility at Straubing station for refueling with HVO. We jointly funded the modifications to the refueling facility with the Free State of Bavaria. The state is covering the additional cost of the HVO fuel for a one-year period.

At Mittelfrankenbahn, we also rely on biofuel. Between Steinach and Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Steinach and Neustadt (Aisch), our trains fill up with HVO. DB Regio Bayern will bear the additional costs for the HVO fuel in the pilot project until the end of 2023.

  • Train of the Südostbayernbahn with green labeling. | © DB AG/ Thomas Kiewning
  • The trains of the Südostbayernbahn are refueled with HVO. | © DB AG/ Thomas Kiewning
  • Mobile tank container for HVO refueling. | © DB AG/ Thomas Kiewning

Fossil-free on the road

Biofuel is also an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel for road vehicles. At DB Regio Bus, for example, Autokraft GmbH buses run on environmentally friendly HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil). The first vehicles operate in Schleswig-Holstein in the Ostholstein Süd transport region. More will follow in the Rendsburg-Eckernförde network by the end of 2023. The biofuel made from biological residues and waste materials can be used without costly vehicle upgrades. Consumption, refueling time and driving behavior also remain the same. The buses can refuel at the first regular HVO bus filling station at Autokraft's bus depot in Neustadt.

  • HVO-operated bus of the DB subsidiary Autokraft in the Ostholstein Süd network. | © DB AG/ Marc-Oliver Schulz
  • Refueling of the buses of the DB subsidiary Autokraft with HVO. | © DB AG/ Marc-Oliver Schulz
  • A bus of the DB subsidiary Autokraft fueled with biofuel from residual and waste materials. | © DB AG/ Marc-Oliver Schulz

DB Schenker, for example, uses the biofuel for its European fleet, too. The first trucks that refuel with 100% HVO are already on the road for DB Schenker in Sweden with a This is green. label.