The US already has one and now the UK is tinkering with the idea of making battery-operated trains, with the government publishing a study to say that the vehicles are a future possibility for the country, according to a report in The Guardian. The new breed of electric loco would run an intercity service of 600 miles on a single charge and be an alternative to diesel engines on those lines that are prohibitively expensive to electrify.
An eight metric tonne battery would power such a train using a super capacitor or flywheel for the varying power requirements of the route. The reason it probably won’t happen any time soon? Cost, of course… mainly because the battery alone which would set back the rail company GBP£150,000 per year in replacement costs.
It’s not just what you do, it’s the way you do it. That’s what researchers into lead acid batteries found, when they successfully designed a charging algorithm to overcome some of the aging processes that plague this type of energy storage unit.
The batteries in question are the one thousand individual cells powering Norfolk Southern Railway No. 999, the first all-electric, battery-powered locomotive in the United States. Like all acid-lead batteries, they suffer from a sulphation, a condition where lead sulphate builds up on the electrodes and, as an insulator, impedes cell performance. The Penn State University research team overcame it by a simple variation in charging rate for the battery.
The improvement of 30%, without the need for any physical or chemical changes in the batteries, is obviously good news for anyone wanting to promote the use of lead-acid energy storage in heavy applications such as this.