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Battery power a growing trend for manufacturers NEWSWIRE

By Keith Fender | November 7, 2018

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At InnoTrans, Turkish manufacturer Tülomsas displayed a mid-1980s-vintage Turkish State Railway DE11000 diesel loco, rebuilt to run on either diesel or batter power.
Keith Fender
Bombardier’s battery-powered Talent 3 EMU after a demonstration run at Hennigsdorf, Germany.
Keith Fender

BERLIN — If there was one recurring theme at the 2018 InnoTrans rail trade fare, it was the rise of battery power.

Manufacturers in Europe and Asia now view battery-powered equipment as a leading alternative to diesels, particularly to meet emissions limits in urban areas and as a substitute for electrification of some regional rail routes, particularly in Europe.

Almost every major European train builder had a battery-powered train on display or announced plans to build them, and freight switch engines were on hand from manufacturers in Germany, China, and Turkey. The trend reached the U.S. days after the show, when BNSF and GE Transportation announced plans to test a 2,400-kilowatt-hour, battery-powered six-axle locomotive. [See “GE to build a battery-powered locomotive for BNSF use in California,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 12, 2018.]

In contrast, at the previous InnoTrans in 2016, the big alternative-power news had been Alstom’s debut of its hydrogen-powered train (which also packs two 111-kWH-rated lithium ion batteries to store energy. The first of those trains began service earlier this year. [See “Hydrogen-powered passenger trains enter service in Germany,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 18, 2018]

Battery-powered trains are not new; battery-powered locomotives were built in several countries in the late 19th century, and some battery-powered multiple units appeared in the 1920s. In post-World War II West Germany, rail operator Deutsche Bundesbahn ordered over 230 single-car battery railcars in the 1950s — so-called “lightweight” equipment, even though they required 22 tons of lead-acid batteries and offered a total power rating of 350 kWh.

But modern battery technology is significantly different; the development of lithium-based batteries, which can pack more power for less weight, has been key to making a phone that will last a day or an electric bus that can operate all day long with no or minimal re-charging.

The batteries on the roof of the Siemens Cityjet Eco train.
Keith Fender

Among the new equipment of note:

— Bombardier arranged a media trip on its Talent 3 battery-powered EMU at its Hennigsdorf factory near Berlin. It was hardly a real-life demonstration — the test track is less than a mile long — but it did prove the train could start without the aid of overhead wires and attain around 40 mph in a short distance. Bombardier say the prototype train should be able to operate on batteries for 25 miles between recharges, which will take 7 to 10 minutes if it is stationary and powered by overhead power catenary. It has 300 kWh of battery power, offering 1,340 hp of traction power at up to 88 mph, at about two-thirds the cost of using diesel fuel. Tests in passenger service are planned in southern Germany next year.

— Siemens presented the CityJet Eco battery EMU, equipped with three roof mounted lithium-titanate battery units, at InnoTrans. Built for Austrian state rail operator ÖBB, its passenger trials are planned for next year, offering one-seat rides from non-electrified branches to nearby big cities. Siemens plans that production trains will be able to operate on battery power at 100 mph; the test train is limited to 75 mph.

Battery trains are heading to the U.S., too. Railroad Development Corp Chairman Henry Posner III, talking to Trains at InnoTrans, confirmed British specialty train builder Vivarail, part-owned by RDC, is planning to build battery versions of its D Train for trial use in the U.S. in 2019. Vivarail rebuilds former London Underground equipment for use as intercity diesel, electric, or battery multiple-unit trains.

18 thoughts on “Battery power a growing trend for manufacturers NEWSWIRE

  1. Wake me when a battery powered truck or train an pull a load up a hill. Right now, this battery stuff is (like self driving cars) all tech-hype (The “St. Louis – San Francisco – and Battery Powered Railroad. Which words are the BS?)

    And, if you can get a computer to drive a truck, shouldn’t getting a computer to drive a train be infinitely easier? All the computer would have to do is control the speed and “look” for signals in KNOWN spots. I haven’t seen THAT yet. Wake me when something can drive itself through Chicago or New York in January.

  2. Charles, don’t forget about the problem of disposing of the batteries when they won’t hold a charge anymore, or when they have a defect and catch on fire, go “boom” or other problems associated with these modern marvels.

  3. JOHN PRIVARA Now we’re talking about self-driving cars? Yup, you’re right. A self-driving car will be many many many times more complex, orders of magnitude more complex, then a self-driving train. Oh, and by the way, impossible to buy liability insurance for. And impossible to repair. And GARY CARAMELLA very difficult at the end of service (which might come sooner rather than later) to break down for recycling.

  4. I really don’t understand the fuss about battery powered vehicles. Nobody thinks the batteries in transportation vehicles create energy, they just store it. Electricity used to charge the battery causes a chemical change. Discharging reverses the chemical change releasing the electricity.

    Diesel locomotives don’t create energy either – the energy is in the fuel. The diesel engine just converts the chemical energy into a form useful to perform work. In railroad locomotives, the useful form is electricity. What difference does it make whether the energy gets stored in a battery or a fuel tank? Why should anyone care whether the energy gets into the locomotive by charging a battery or filling a tank with diesel fuel?

    Batteries loose charge capacity over time and eventually become unsuitable for transportation use. But, those same batteries are expected to have a useful second life in electricity grid storage applications where energy density is less of a concern. After the second life, the batteries will have to be recycled to recover the valuable elements for use in new battery production. The infrastructure for vehicle battery recycling is just coming into existence as the first generation of hybrid electric vehicles reach the end of their useful lives.

    Electric motors will power the vehicles of the future. Batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, often combined in hybrid power systems, will provide the electricity. The battery powered transit vehicles described above are just the first steps. Superior performance and lower operating cost will drive technology evolution.

  5. But they’re soooo Greeeeen! Until you want to open or expand a lithium mine. Then all the NIMBYs and evironmentalist wacko’s will show up…

  6. Using batteries is a way for the locomotive industry to pass the pollution responsibilities off to someone else — the power companies. One way batteries can be “green” is if they only charge during daylight. Should be interested to see how long it is until the pollution agencies discover that batteries are just passing the pollution issue off to someone else.

  7. Charles Landey and Gary Caramela,

    I suggest you do a little research on lithium batteries before commenting. Some lithium + “name your other component here” do produce their own electricity, but those can not be recharged. Also, some of the combinations are more stable than others, those prone to catching fire or exploding are usually able to hold a higher charge…those more stable that last longer, not so much. A prime example is the APUs(auxiliary power unit) used in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the specific combination used was a mid-level volatility and only caused problems because there was insufficient dead space between each cell, they could’ve chosen a different lithium based battery, but instead chose to increase the gap between cells, that solved the problem.

    Mark Erickson,

    There’s already sufficient lithium production in the world today, and not all of it is mined from deep sources.

  8. Gerald – If a battery produces its own power it’s because ingredients have been put into it which have been chemically altered (by means of input of energy in the chemical plant) to cause that reaction. I suggest you look up the word “entropy” a concept I believe I understood in high school.

  9. Lithium battery powered cars , like my wife’s Prius, will have their batteries recycled at the end of their useful life, thus reducing the need or demand for increased mining. Secondly, hybrid cars use dynamic braking, just like a locomotive, to charge the batteries- no demand on the grid there. And if a greater amount of utilities would embrace the concept of off-peak pricing, (not a new idea), the people with plug in all electric cars could use a simple timing device to charge their cars during off-peak times. Almost like using off-peak power in pumped storage facilities to be used later. Like in peak demand.

  10. There is no such thing as battery power, Batteries store power, not make it. That’s like saying my Subaru is powered by the gas tank and the fuel lines. It isn’t, Oh, and BTW, in addition to not asking what loads up the batteries with stored energy, don’t ask what resources are used and what pollution is generated in the construction of the batteries.

  11. Mister Landey:

    In thermodynamics – and especially in thermodynamics – there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

    There has to be a prime mover somewhere.

    The above comments are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Go find your own damn lawyer.

  12. Mister Landey:

    I forgot to add…your comment concerning entropy. Entropy can be defined as a measure of the number of states of a system together with the probability of occupation of each state. Or (and we will now find out of this forum can handle Latex)

    \textit{S} = -k_{B} \Sigma_{i} p_{i} \ln p_{i} , where k_{B} is Boltzmann’s Constant (in joules/kelvin) and p_{i} is the probability of the i-th state of being occupied.

    If all states are equally probable then this reduces to \textit{S} = -k_{B} \ln \Omega where \Omega is the number of (usually micro) states in the ensemble.

    There is an interesting side comment here involving systems with inverted populations and a finite or effectively finite number of states. Such systems run at negative temperatures – that is negative kelvin, not negative Celsius. Lasers, for example operate this way – look at the distribution of the states and the Einstein A and B parameters.

    But back at the ranch. Given the above definition available in statistical mechanics (sadistical mechanics, as it is known to hapless graduate students) we can then define the second law of thermodynamics for a closed system as

    d \textit{S} > \frac{\delta Q}{T} , where Q is the energy of a closed system and T is the temperature of the system.

    Thus entropy can be seen as the change in number of states available to a system as the temperature of the system increases.

    If you are dealing with a heat engine involving a gas then you get

    dU = TdS -pdV -VdP.

    There is a set of quotes (Batteau’s StupidTheorems) I remember from my days of wrestling with thermal fluids. It’s a fascinating subject although dealing with the partial differential equations will make you yearn for strong drink.

    It’s the only game in town (Zeroth Law)
    You can’t win (First Law)
    You can’t break even (Second Law)
    You can’t get out of the game (Third Law)

    There is also the Second Law as applied to everyday life, and I maintain that this is a syntactically correct formulation thereof:

    S**t Happens.

    Have a good day.

    The above comments are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Go find your own damn lawyer.

  13. Mister Landey:

    While it is true that using batteries, or for that matter any kind of electrical (e.g., cantenary) power simply relocates the prime mover there are advantages – as well as disadvantages in doing so.

    The disadvantage of course is that infrastructure is required which is not required for diesel propulsion. This comes at what can be a significant dollar cost.

    The advantage is that the prime mover can now be a variety of things – hydro, solar, wind, fossil fuel, nuclear. A diesel engine in a locomotive has a Carnot efficiency in the 20 to 25 percent range. Large fixed fossil fuel plants (Rankine cycle plants) can have Carnot efficiencies in the 45-50 percent range, and depending on the design can have a theoretical efficiency pushing 60 percent – although I have never seen one that ran reliably when pushed that hard.

    Nuclear plants with water as the working fluid generally run in the vicinity of 35 percent, and although they can attain the temperatures of a high efficiency fossil fuel plant the steam is saturated steam because of the technical difficulties of making a superheat pass.

    Nuclear plants with a gas (CO2 and He are the most common) as the working fluid have been designed with a superheat pass; one which I am aware of had reliability issues due to the difficulty of sealing against helium leakage and was eventually shut down due to the low availability.

    The other sources are of course not heat engines (well, except for solar they are but the cycle is tapped and not engineered) and it is difficult to assign Carnot efficiency figures to such things. I am told that solar efficiencies in the vicinity of 50 percent are common, and that it is not unusual to see efficiencies in the 60 percent range.

    I can see that battery locomotives have a role. Yes, they have to be fed electricity and this requires a generator somewhere (but not necessarily a generator driven by a heat engine) but then they can uncouple from the source and move without cantenary. They also have the advantage that with conventional regenerative braking the energy is dissipated to the atmosphere as heat and is therefore wasted; here, it can be shoved back into the can and re-used.

    Service utilities (electrical, telephone, cable, internet etc.) have what is called a “last mile” problem. It is easy enough to install infrastructure to deal with distribution right down to the point where everything splits to deal with individual customers – and that is where a considerable portion of the cost of installation lies.

    Something similar could be said to exist with an electrified railroad: it is cheap enough (relatively speaking) to install cantenary on the major routes but then branch lines serving industries, sidings, spurs and the like either you go all the way and install cantenary everywhere (which decreases the cost effectiveness of the effort) or you use another prime mover for the “last mile”. Previously either steam or diesel, now quite possibly battery.

    This locomotive design does not exist in a vacuum, sufficient unto itself. I am morally certain that the above analysis has been done, the return-on-investment calculated, and the time-to-payoff determined. If the numbers weren’t there then there would be little interest in pursuing this technology.

    The above comments are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Go find your own damn lawyer.

  14. ANNA – Good post. I have nothing against battery storage of energy. I’m just pointing out that it comes at a cost. Like anyone else I own rechargeable phone, power tools, flashlight etc. The difference is, I don’t see them as any particular solution to our environmental stresses. If anything all this stuff seems to add to the earth’s overload.

  15. solar pv panels work on light , not heat. Efficiency is around 20 %, but not really relevant as the source is free.

  16. FWIW column, Lithium is colected not mined. Most current production of Lithium is from brine pools that are flooded with a salty solution and then progressively concentrated into a salt for refinement.

  17. I`m looking forward when these eyesore electric overhead wires and poles will be obsolete especially on the NE corridor.

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