Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Why replacing diesel with electric is vital to the future of transportation


What will the trains of the future look like? We know for a fact that they won’t fully depend on fossil energy sources. The transition to a new generation of trains and railways that are environmentally conscious and sustainable is happening now. And “shunting trains” may be at the forefront of that change.

Shunting describes the process of “sorting items of rolling stock into complete train sets or consists, or the reverse. In the U.S. this is known as ‘switching’.” Those trains have many specificities, operating in very short distances and making multiple starts and stops. These working patterns are responsible for a greater consumption of fuel, and therefore the cause of dramatic air pollutant emissions. “Not only in France but in Europe, we have to restart the diesel engines as soon as the trains go out of the main routes. Today one of the alternatives would be to embed some batteries instead of embedding traditional diesel engines”, explains Sébastien Rembauville-Nicolle (1), Director of strategy, marketing and Transportation markets at Forsee Power, a France-based world-class leader in customized energy storage systems and battery systems. In a perfect and environmental friendly world, electric propulsion would replace these outdated locomotives, often pictured projecting a black cloud of smoke at every stop. Electric propulsion for shunting trains would be based on super-capacitors and/or batteries. It seems to be the only reliable and credible alternative towards sustainable development and an energy transition today.
The technologies to make this a possibility are already on the market. In June 2012, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) introduced an important recycled energy optimization project. The idea was to use the braking energy of trains to integrate into the regional electric grid. When trains brake at each stop to load and unload passengers, the kinetic energy of the train converts into electricity. This ‘smart grid’ type of model captures the excess electricity and stores it up to be used at a later time.
SEPTA’s solution captures the regenerative braking energy of the trains through a large scale battery storage system and to deploy that energy as virtual power into PJM’s wholesale power frequency regulations and energy markets. "We've made our system cleaner, greener and more efficient in recent years - things like replacing traditional diesel buses with diesel-electric hybrids and installing energy efficient lighting at stations, facilities and offices," said Joe Casey, general manager at SEPTA. "Through this pilot project, SEPTA will become even more energy efficient.” (2) Since then, projects like SEPTA’s are flourishing around the world and are likely to become the norm in every developed country.
Germany is currently developing the H3 Hybrid Locomotive Project, which involves the development and testing of five new-generation locomotives based on hybrid technology (electric batteries and/or generators). This major project could pave the way for Germany’s railway’s future. Developed by Deutsche Bahn, Alstom Deutschland, The State of Bavaria and DAL (Deutsche Anlagen-Leasing), the project forms part of the Eco Rail Innovation platform. They aim to create an emission-free rail system by 2050. According to Alstom Deutshland, “The locomotive can reach a maximum speed of 100km/h on a 1,435mm European standard gauge, allowing it to operate in short-distance mainline traffic.” (3)
One of the most important components for these hybrid locomotives is the battery and/or supercapacitor system. For instance, the H3 hybrid locomotive is equipped with battery systems from 600kW and up to a 1000kW. These high-end pieces of technology require a specialist in battery system integration. “Batteries are a complete system with much added value. Now it’s not about connecting one or two batteries together, it’s about connecting hundreds or thousands of batteries and cells together,” says Christophe Gurtner, CEO at Forsee Power.
According to Christophe Gurtner, “You have to manage to balance the energy of the different cells together, to control the safety and temperature, among other things in order to operate the system (…) Therefore, serving as a battery system integrator allows us to bring a complete system to the market. This is what the market needs today and beyond, in order to be able to give life to essential modes of transportation such as trains” (4). Forsee Power has specialized in manufacturing state-of-the art supercapacitors systems for railway applications, such as the metro, tramway and trains, and is now offering solutions worldwide to shunting trains manufacturers who want to switch to electricity.
A shunting train, such as the H3 hybrid locomotive, consumes up to 50% less fuel, offsets pollutions by up to 70% and enables noise reduction by more than 80%, compared to conventional locomotives. Today, it can operate 50% to 75% solely on battery power, but these numbers could go up, as battery integrators and train manufacturers are working together to find the solutions of a greater and greener future for our trains.
(1) The train of the future; being ahead of its time in sustainable transportation, The Strategist, November, 17th 2016
(2) Batteries vs supercapacitors for train regeneration, Electric Vehicles Research, August 9th 2012
(3) H3 Hybrid Shunting Locomotive Project, Germany, Railway-technology, 2016
(4) French Company Forsee Power consumed with worldwide ambition, Daily Management Review, February 11th 2015