“Significantly More Powerful”: World’s First Battery-Powered Electric Freight Train Unveiled | Pennsylvania
The world’s first battery-electric freight train was unveiled at an event in Pittsburgh on Friday, amid another attempt by some US lawmakers to cut carbon emissions from rail transport in order to address the climate crisis .
Wabtec, the Pittsburgh-based rail freight company, presented its locomotive to Carnegie Mellon University as part of a new venture between the two organizations to develop zero-emission technology to help move the 1.7 billion tonnes of goods that are shipped on US railways each year.
Perched on a strip of rail at the Carnegie Mellon tech campus on the banks of the Monongahela River, the 75-foot-long cherry-red train provided a striking backdrop for politicians, rail executives and academics who called for faster industry transition away from fossil fuels. Dignitaries were allowed to climb a dizzying ladder onto the train to inspect its boundaries, which included a small driver’s cabin in front of 500 lithium-ion battery modules, stacked in cells at the heart of the vehicle.
The new train, known as the FLXdrive battery electric locomotive, underwent successful trials in California earlier this year, where it was found to have reduced fuel consumption by 11%, which which meant reducing the amount of diesel used by 6,200 gallons.. Wabtec said the next iteration of the locomotive, which will be deployed within two years, will cut consumption of diesel, the fossil fuel traditionally used in rail freight, by nearly a third.
The company also said the emissions would be completely eliminated through the development of associated hydrogen fuel cells. If the technology is used worldwide, Wabtec estimates that global warming emissions could be reduced by 300 million tonnes per year, with almost half of those saved emissions occurring in the United States.
“A bolder, cleaner and more efficient transportation system is within our reach,” said Raphael Santana, CEO of Wabtec. “This is just the beginning.”
The railway industry seeks to to position yourself as an enthusiastic supporter of Joe Biden’s climate agenda despite its funding history groups that reject the reality of climate change and fiercely protect the flow of coal carried by American railroads.
The use of rail to transport goods over long distances has been an integral part of the American economy since the merger of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways in 1869, for the first time allowing goods to flow freely westward. the United States. The rail freight industry is now worth about $ 80 billion and spans 140,000 miles of track across the United States.
However, the environmental benefits of rail have been undermined by the heavy reliance on diesel to power freight trains, as well as a generalized preference between companies to transport goods by truck rather than by train. It’s a global problem beyond the United States – the International Energy Agency said that rail freight is “often overlooked” in climate debates and currently only carries 7% of all freight transported globally.
Wabtec is betting that the FLXdrive will change that dynamic. Housed in a traditional locomotive body, the new battery system drives the train axles and uses the kinetic energy of the train’s braking to recharge, meaning the batteries should never run out. The most recent version will be a 7-megawatt battery-powered locomotive, which is “100 times the power and energy of a Tesla – it’s considerably more powerful,” said Eric Gebhardt, CTO of Wabtec.
The locomotive unveiling was used by two Democrats in attendance to renew their calls for $ 600 million in Congressional reconciliation bill to be spent on a new freight rail innovation institute that would provide research and development for reduce emissions from the sector. Lawmakers and Wabtec consider battery trains to be more convenient and cheaper than electrifying the entire US rail network.
“We are really trying to get it into the bigger bill,” Senator Bob Casey told The Guardian. Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, presented the Senate with a $ 600 million proposal for the institute, with an identical House of Representatives bill drafted by Conor Lamb, another Democrat whose district includes part of Pittsburgh . “We are in a race against irreversible climate change and rail is part of the strategy to reduce emissions,” Casey said.
Recent climatic disasters, such as floods in Tennessee and New York and wildfires in the western United States, have captured the attention of some fellow senators, Casey said. “Senators are also human beings,” he said. “Republicans don’t have the same sense of urgency as we do, but many of them recognize that the party can’t just deny this stuff anymore.”
However, more tonnage of goods is now transported by truck on road than by rail, and the rail industry is hoping that action on the climate crisis will prove to be advantageous for its own prospects. “If we decarbonize all the locomotives and reduce the number of trucks, we’ll get to where we need to be,” Gebhardt said. Medium and heavy trucks are responsible for about a quarter of all U.S. emissions from transportation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than double the pollution emitted by airplanes.
Gebhardt said Wabtec hopes to develop fuel cells with so-called “green” hydrogen, which is produced via renewable energy, but that “blue” hydrogen was a possibility, despite researchers warning that this form of energy can in some cases be even more polluting than traditional fossil fuels.
Bill Sanders, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s college of engineering, said he hoped the proposed institute would provide research on fuel cells, battery systems and railroad efficiency.
“It’s a very exciting time – battery technology is developing extremely quickly now,” he said. “People talk about self-driving cars, but I think the progress on rail is much closer than that. We see the interest of the federal government in supporting this and I think it would be very helpful. “