December 5, 2023

Zero-Emissions Rail and Securing the Grid With Big Batteries on Wheels

” A rapid conversion of the freight-rail sector is not only technically practical and affordable, it would bring instant and long lasting health and financial benefits to lower income neighborhoods,” stated Natalie Popovich, Berkeley Lab researcher and lead author of the research study. “And it would supply an increase to our countrys efforts to curb climate change, especially considering that U.S. freight rail capacity is expected to double by 2050.”
Trains play a significant function in moving items throughout the U.S., particularly heavy freight such as ore, coal, and lumber. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, 28% of U.S. freight is walked around the country by rail, which percentage is expected to grow significantly in the next couple of years. At the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the U.S. signed up with a dozen other countries in signing onto new contracts to curtail shipping emissions, and zero-emissions services for freight rail transportation will be part of that commitment.
Diesel-Electric, however not Battery-Electric
Unlike a number of other regions on the planet, all freight trains in the U.S. are still diesel electrical, mainly due to the fact that the normal electrification strategy of structure energized lines over tracks is more difficult to execute in the U.S. with its large ranges. In diesel-electric trains, a diesel motor is connected to a generator that then supplies electrical power to electric motors connected to the engine axles. Retrofitting the trains to be powered by batteries is therefore possible due to the fact that diesel-electric trains already have an electric motor.
” Dramatic improvements in battery innovation, coupled with the existing electrical drivetrain in mainly diesel-electric freight trains in the U.S., lead the way for a rapid conversion to battery-electric freight rail and with significant cost savings,” said Berkeley Lab researcher Amol Phadke, matching author of the study. “Also, the weight of batteries is less of a restriction than it would be for electric lorries or trucks. We can include a car to a freight train developed out with batteries, and the weight of that battery cars and truck is not a concern with trains.”
Diesel-electric trains have actually been around given that the 1920s, and they began to replace steam trains in the 1930s because they carried out much better and were less contaminating. At that time, using diesel motor to create power for the motors on trains was more affordable than trying to establish totally electric trains due to high electricity expenses. Now, a century later on, we are at a point where the price of electrical power is competitive with diesel, and the ecological and health expenses of continuing to rely on diesel to power freight trains are too devastating to ignore.
” Our analysis reveals that a switch to battery-electric freight will cut the industrys annual co2 emission by over half, getting rid of more than 400 million metric heaps of co2 in 20 years,” said Popovich.
Battery-tender automobiles are modular and can be released in various configurations to places experiencing power outages along with to other sectors, such as to for electrifying ships.
The study highlights that additional paths to electrifying U.S. freight trains exist, such as electrifying trains through overhead power lines or utilizing hydrogen fuel cells in combination with battery-powered trains. Based on the truth that freight trains are already diesel-electric, and thinking about current advances in battery innovation, the researchers reveal that the battery-electric path provides the most cost-efficient, long-lasting service with multiple included benefits.
Their analysis reveals that existing battery technology might power a freight train for 150 miles (the average day-to-day range took a trip). A battery-powered freight train would use half the energy required by a diesel-electric train, and taking into consideration falling battery prices and environmental expenses of diesel, battery-electric trains are on track to be more cost-competitive than diesel-electric trains. Because freight rail planning is centralized, the study suggests that railways might accomplish high volume use of fast-charging facilities, which would further lower expenses.
One major benefit of retrofitting existing diesel-electric freight trains with battery vehicles– otherwise referred to as battery tender cars and trucks– is that the battery-electric trains can constantly draw on the diesel motor as a backup fuel source. This dual-fuel ability, permitting either battery or diesel usage, is a distinct benefit compared to fully electrifying the freight rail system or using hydrogen fuel cells.
Modular Batteries Offer Resilience Benefits
Another major benefit is that battery-electric trains can be deployed as tidy backup power, hence reinforcing the electric grids strength. Historically, diesel-electric trains have actually been utilized as power generators during emergencies.
With the rise of extreme weather condition events and power outages, battery-electric trains have the potential to be deployed nationwide to prevent blackouts. These modular, battery tender automobiles can be transported to where they are required and charged in places where the electricity costs are low, hence providing substantial advantages over grid-scale storage. The battery tender cars and trucks could work as modular shipping containers, capable of exchange between freight rail and maritime shipping vessels, with positive advantages to decarbonizing both sectors and expanding the strength reach.
” Conversion of the U.S. freight rail sector to battery-electric would generate about 220 gigawatt-hours of mobile storage,” said Phadke. “Furthermore, these battery tender vehicles could be deployed throughout severe occasions, such as during the recent catastrophic wildfires in California or the 2021 winter season storm in Texas that left millions without access to electrical energy. This mobile energy storage ability would also create a potential brand-new profits stream for freight rail operators.”
From a technical viewpoint, the researchers showed that there need to not be any restrictions in moving to fully battery-electric freight trains, however even more research and massive presentation jobs are needed to optimize charging facilities. “The techno-economic analysis of battery-electric freight trains reveals that we have viable services available to make it possible for the transition to a clean, cost effective, and resistant energy future.”
Recommendation: “Economic, grid-resilience and ecological benefits of transforming diesel trains to battery-electric” by Natalie D. Popovich, Deepak Rajagopal, Elif Tasar and Amol Phadke, 11 November 2021, Nature Energy.DOI: 10.1038/ s41560-021-00915-5.
The research was supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, by way of the Berkeley Lab Foundation.

Near elimination of air contamination from diesel-electric freight trains by 2025 is now possible by retrofitting them with battery tender vehicles.
Berkeley Lab study reveals how battery-electric trains can provide environmental justice, cost-savings, and resilience to the U.S.
Trains have been on the sidelines of electrification efforts for a very long time in the U.S. since they represent just 2% of transportation sector emissions, however diesel freight trains give off 35 million metric lots of co2 every year and produce air pollution that leads to $6.5 billion in health costs, leading to an estimated 1,000 early deaths each year. Whats more, these deaths and unfavorable health impacts disproportionately affect disadvantaged and low-income neighborhoods, which are most likely to be located near freight rail yards and railways.
The current dramatic decline in battery prices has created a new possibility for electrification of freight trains. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energys Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), teaming up with UCLA and UC Berkeley scientists, make the case that the U.S. can retrofit diesel-electric trains with batteries in a method that is cost-competitive with diesel.

Retrofitting the trains to be powered by batteries is therefore practical due to the fact that diesel-electric trains currently have an electrical motor.
We can add a vehicle to a freight train developed out with batteries, and the weight of that battery car is not a concern with trains.”
Diesel-electric trains have actually been around because the 1920s, and they began to change steam trains in the 1930s since they performed much better and were less contaminating. At that time, utilizing diesel engines to generate power for the motors on trains was less expensive than attempting to develop fully electrical trains due to high electrical power expenses. A battery-powered freight train would utilize half the energy required by a diesel-electric train, and taking into account falling battery costs and ecological expenses of diesel, battery-electric trains are on track to be more cost-competitive than diesel-electric trains.