World's first battery-electric locomotive cuts freight train fuel use by 11%

World's first battery-electric...
Wabtec's FLXDrive locomotive is described as the world’s first 100-percent battery-powered locomotive
Wabtec's FLXDrive locomotive is described as the world’s first 100-percent battery-powered locomotive
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Wabtec's FLXDrive locomotive is described as the world’s first 100-percent battery-powered locomotive
Wabtec's FLXDrive locomotive is described as the world’s first 100-percent battery-powered locomotive

Rail technology company Wabtec has demonstrated an electric locomotive that could help lessen the environmental footprint of heavy-haul freight services. The company's battery-powered FLXdrive locomotive was used as part of a hybrid system over a three-month trial, where it reduced the fuel consumption of the entire vehicle by 11 percent.

Wabtec's FLXdrive is described as the world's first 100-percent battery-powered locomotive, drawing on 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells to power all four axles and using an intelligent energy flow management to optimize efficiency. The 2.4-megawatt hour system can be recharged at the depot much like an electric vehicle, but also uses a regenerative braking system to top itself up when on the move. The top spec Tesla Model 3, by way of comparison, has a capacity of 75 kWh – that's 32 times smaller than the FLXdrive. Needless to say, this system will require a serious charging station.

The FLXdrive was put to the test as part of a hybrid system with conventional diesel powertrains across a three-month trial in San Joaquin Valley, California, where it covered more than 13,320 miles (21,400 km) of hilly terrain. According to Wabtec, the 11-percent average reduction in fuel consumption for the entire train is equivalent to 6,200 gallons of diesel saved, or around 69 tons of CO2.

“The FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive is a defining moment for freight rail and will accelerate the industry toward low- to zero-emission locomotives,” says Eric Gebhardt, Wabtec Chief Technology Officer. “It builds upon the rail industry’s position as the most efficient and sustainable mode of transportation. Building on our long history of pioneering train energy management technologies, this demonstration of coupling 2.4 megawatt hours of battery storage into the mix fully validated our assumptions for the potential for this next generation technology to further drive efficiencies and greenhouse gas reductions."

Wabtec is looking to build on these promising results with an even bigger and better version, upping the capacity to more than 6 MWh which its expects could cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions by as much as 30 percent. It says it plans to commercialize this second generation FLXdrive locomotive, with hopes of rolling it out into freight routes in the coming years.

Source: Wabtec

Bob Stuart
At what point in the energy cycle is the savings realized? Is this a matter of technical progress or advanced accounting?
The Doubter
Wouldn't it be better to electrify the line instead of spending so much on Li battery packs and charging infrastructure? It would be much more efficient than this option. And the savings in the long run will be enormous.
Simon Redford
I couldn't agree more with Bob. Is this 11% less kWh than the kWh shaft power of the diesel, 11% less than the calorific value of the diesel, 11% less carbon emissions? It says "part of a hybrid system", so does this imply that the electric loco works in tandem with diesel locos or that it has an on-board diesel despite being described as "100% battery powered"? Some details would be useful!
We need to realize that replacing all existing diesel trains, trucks, ships (even aircraft) will take a long time & that is why all countries need to start producing biodiesel/biofuel at large scales (to make them all carbon-neutral)!
& not by using food crops but by using all possible industrial/agricultural/forestry waste/biomass & trash & sewage!
Douglas Rogers
Is the fuel saving due to the regenerative braking capability delivered by the batteries? The batteries allow any fuel to be used at some efficiency. Electrified rail is less efficient than battery at some range.
No country in the world has the infrastructure in place to handle all the new cars, let alone this behemoth!
And we are one of the few countries even trying.
there would be no way to electrically insulate the rails because the contact surface between rail and wheels can't be covered up.
FB. Bio fuel is no different than regular petro fuel. They both emit CO2 into the atmosphere. And, Signguy, as for the electrical grid keeping up with the additional transportation demand, the "shortage" does not exist. If it did, coal would not be going bankrupt. Wind turbines are not sprouting up all over due to philosophical desires, they provide a better return on investment than fossil fuel plants.
Hardly the first battery electric locomotive- they've been in use on the London Underground since 1905!
Good write up Nick. I guess this is part of the GE initiative that was sold off well before the pandemic.
Many cities in the Northeast used electric locomotives in municipalities to reduce the coal soot of the external combustion steamies. Some used pantographs and overhead wires, others used a third rail. With California emission standards a combination of pure battery locomotives with diesel road engines pulling a consist would allow for non-exhaust locomotion through the zero emission air-space.

The fuel savings of hybrid locomotives was a remarkable start - but still produced tons of CO2.
However - Why not heavier alternate non-lithium rechargeable? Maybe Graphene Manufacturing Group of Australia could trial a couple of million coin cells to power the 3rd generation of Wabtec's battery only engine. Aluminum ion wonder cells - the rails can handle the weight.