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