Study finds switching from rail to battery electric propulsion feasible and profitable

‘Battery tender’ cars would make rapid change possible, researchers say


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A Canadian National train begins to climb Byron Hill after leaving Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. A new study indicates that diesel-electric locomotives could be converted to battery-powered electric locomotives cost-effectively through the use of ‘battery offerings’. (Train: David Lassen)

BERKELEY, Calif .– New study says railways could save $ 94 billion over 20 years by reducing air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions – and help avoid health effects, including about 1,000 premature deaths every year – modernizing diesel-electric locomotives with battery power.

The study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy, in collaboration with researchers at UCLA and UC Berkeley, indicates that the conversion could be carried out competitively, in part thanks to the use of tenders of batteries, cars carrying battery units, while leaving the diesel engine in place as a backup power source. The study was published in the journal Nature Energy.

“A rapid conversion of the rail freight sector is not only technically feasible and cost effective, it would bring immediate and lasting health and economic benefits to low-income communities,” Natalie Popovich, Berkeley Lab scientist and lead author of the study , said in a Berkeley Lab article. “And that would give a boost to our country’s efforts to fight climate change, especially since US freight rail capacity is expected to double by 2050.”

Amol Phadke, a Berkeley Lab scientist and co-author of the study, said dramatic improvements in battery technology make the conversion possible, and battery weight is less of an issue for trains than for d ‘Other forms of transport: “We can add a car to a freight train built with batteries, and the weight of that battery car is not a problem.

Phadke sees another potential benefit of using the battery offerings: They could be used as mobile power sources “during extreme events, such as the recent catastrophic wildfires in California or the 2021 winter storm in August. Texas which has left millions of people without access to electricity. This mobile energy storage capacity would also create a potential new source of revenue for freight rail operators. “

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