Transport

Battery-electric "Infinity Train" will charge itself using gravity

Battery-electric "Infinity Tra...
Fortescue's mine at Eliwana, Western Australia, was opened in December 2020 and includes a 143-km rail line
Fortescue's mine at Eliwana, Western Australia, was opened in December 2020 and includes a 143-km rail line
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Fortescue's mine at Eliwana, Western Australia, was opened in December 2020 and includes a 143-km rail line
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Fortescue's mine at Eliwana, Western Australia, was opened in December 2020 and includes a 143-km rail line
The Infinity Train project aims to replace some or all of Fortescue's diesel locomotives with battery-electric trains that are completely self-charged through regenerative braking
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The Infinity Train project aims to replace some or all of Fortescue's diesel locomotives with battery-electric trains that are completely self-charged through regenerative braking

Australian mining company Fortescue is working to clean up its own operations by 2030, while developing green solutions it can sell to others. It's forking out into green tech through a subsidiary called Fortescue Future Industries, which has recently acquired Williams Advanced Engineering. Today, the two companies announced their first project together: an electric "infinity train" designed to move loads of iron ore without ever needing to be charged.

“The Infinity Train has the capacity to be the world’s most efficient battery electric locomotive," said Fortescue CEO Elizabeth Gaines. "The regeneration of electricity on the downhill loaded sections will remove the need for the installation of renewable energy generation and recharging infrastructure, making it a capital efficient solution for eliminating diesel and emissions from our rail operations.”

So essentially, while details are scant at this point, it seems what's happening here is that for one or more of Fortescue's mining sites, the team has calculated that there's enough downhill slope and braking opportunities in the loaded direction to charge up the battery regeneratively, and the train is so much lighter when it's unloaded that the battery can take it all the way back to the mine and start the journey again without needing a charge.

The Infinity Train project aims to replace some or all of Fortescue's diesel locomotives with battery-electric trains that are completely self-charged through regenerative braking
The Infinity Train project aims to replace some or all of Fortescue's diesel locomotives with battery-electric trains that are completely self-charged through regenerative braking

So it's a very interesting project, and we'll be fascinated to learn more as it progresses – for example, what are the topological parameters under which an infinity train like this can work? Will it work in wetter, lower-friction areas than the West Australian desert? Is this a super-specific single use case, or something that will be able to roll out to a wider market? And indeed, would it still be economical to roll out in situations where some charging is required during loading/unloading?

This is just one of FFI's impressive and growing list of green-tech projects. We wrote earlier this year about the company's efforts to have the world's first ammonia-powered ship in operation by the end of this year, as well as hydrogen fuel cell mining trucks and ammonia-fueled trains. It's also setting itself up as a major global player in green hydrogen production and distribution, as well as beginning construction on a factory in Australia that will more than double the world's current electrolyzer production capacity.

Source: Williams Advanced Engineering

Disclosure: the author holds a small number of shares in FMG.

16 comments
16 comments
ptim
DustPiercer 😄
guzmanchinky
what a cool idea!
vince
We have the technology to wean the world off of oil and gas but not the guts to do it. Big oil is blackmailing the entire world with lies.
windykites
Any chance of using conveyor belts instead of trains? There would be a weight saving by not using wagons. The weight of the ore could move the belt by gravity. No engines needed!
michael_dowling
There is an aerial rope way in the UK that uses gravity alone to move shale from the mine to a nearby brickworks,with no electricity/fuel of any kind. They used to be common,but are almost extinct now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RiYXI1Tfu4 A Swiss mine truck self charges on it's downward journey to the factory carrying 65 tons of stone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vW8YTULYRVo
joseph28
The irony. EV trains hauling coal!
Aross
Not much new here except the generation of electricity. There are many examples around the world of the use of weight and lack of weight to move goods and people. One example is the two car Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway that uses the weight of water to raise and lower the cars as needed.
Bob Flint
Coal mines are typically topographically lower than the final destination, but if higher then use gravity....
foxpup
It's a nice niche opportunity, well worth exploiting in the rare instances where the numbers work out. Great engineering.
Old J Hawthorne
@vince...have to disagree. We are definitely not able to function w/o carbon fuels. Do you ever fly anywhere? Are we able to power electric power plants with solar and wind? This idea that it's all a conspiracy is ludicrous. Try living w/o any power, lmk how long you last.
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