In an age of ever-evolving electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and ultra-efficient hybrids, it seems something of an anachronism that around 4,000 locomotives are sold every year. However, locomotives remain a key element in the world’s transportation network and researchers are anticipating innovations in fuel efficiency, high-capacity batteries and emerging battery chemistry that have the potential to be transferred from the rumbling giants to other modes of transportation and tomorrow’s consumer vehicles.
Currently, almost all the world’s locomotives are powered by electricity, either generated onboard or via a connection to the electric grid. Yet, according to a recent report from Pike Research, hybrid locomotive sales will reach nearly 500 units during the period from 2011 to 2020. What all hybrid locomotives have in common is their use of very large-capacity batteries, the development of which could have a positive effect on batteries for other industry sectors.
According to the report, new sales of hybrid locomotives will require approximately 514 megawatt-hours of battery capacity between 2011 and 2020. Most of this capacity will be in lead acid and advanced lead acid batteries, with a portion of the market using sodium metal halide and lithium ion batteries.
While the low-cost batteries used in hybrid locomotives will make their profitability attractive, their adoption could reduce emissions by as much as 80 percent and offer fuel savings of between 15 percent and 40 percent versus conventional diesel engines, Pike said. Other benefits include reduced noise levels and lower maintenance costs.