Battery-powered locomotives hit the rails
U.S. Steel Corp. and Australian mining company Roy Hill have each unveiled battery-powered locomotives to decarbonize their freight operations.
State of play: Battery-powered rail is a niche climate investment, but one drawing the attention — and checkbooks — of multinational giants.
Context: Freight trains largely rely on diesel engines, which are pretty efficient when it comes to overall emissions compared with alternatives like semitrucks.
- But the local impact from the fumes does leave a mark.
Driving the news: U.S. Steel last month unveiled two locomotives it converted to battery-powered models in a nearly $7 million effort.
- The engines will haul steel, coke and scrap metal around the company's Clairton Coke Works outside Pittsburgh.
- U.S. Steel invested $2.3 million in the project with Innovation Rail Technologies. Pennsylvania put up another $4.5 million.
Meanwhile, Roy Hill and Hancock Prospecting debuted their FLXdrive battery locomotive, which they say will be the first wholly battery-powered locomotive for mainline service.
- The engine, built by Pittsburgh-based Wabtec, will be paired with diesel locomotives hauling iron ore along a 1.5-mile route in Australia.
Be smart: "This is a special and unique case," Enrique Glotzer, a managing director in FTI Consulting's Power, Renewables & Energy Transition practice, tells Axios.
- Batteries just don't have the energy density for long-haul rail.
Yes, but: The tech can cut local pollution while achieving climate impacts at the margins — and perhaps help meet corporate decarbonization mandates.
- "I would suspect the route timing can be very predictable allowing the required charging to not be disruptive to the operations," Lucas Martin, a partner at Bain & Company, says.