NEW DELHI: Electric cars are becoming a rage. Now, US company Wabtec is building an electric locomotive that works on a battery.
It is doing this in collaboration with BNSF Railway Co, a company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The testing of the technology for freight carriage is in process in California and a result is expected by March.
While the locomotive is manufactured in the US, a significant portion of its design is being done out of India, says Gopalakrishna Madabhushi, corporate vice president at Wabtec in India.
“For the first time in the history of the railroad, we have developed a 100% BEL (battery electric locomotive) that can carry 1,000 tonnes of freight and give about 10-30% reduction in fuel emission,” he says.
Currently, on many routes, freight trains use diesel engines because it’s expensive to install overhead electric cabling infrastructure.
Since a freight train in the US has many wagons, it usually requires 2-3 locomotive engines. The batterypowered locomotive will be situated between two Tier 4 (latest emission standard) diesel locomotives. Intelligent software determines when to use the battery-electric locomotive and when the diesel ones.
The design team, consisting of 1,200 engineers in India and 5,000 globally, does design, validation, and testing of components. The battery locomotive has to accommodate a high power battery package of 2.4 MWh, which consists of 20,000 cells. The Bengaluru centre is designing that.
New locomotives require structural integrity to ensure they can withstand harsh coupling loads. They also need a cooling and ventilation system to maintain optimal temperature conditions, so that the battery life does not come down.
The Bengaluru centre tests mechanical structures such as battery cab design – which holds the battery and power electronics components such as capacitors, filters, harmonics.
The development and testing of traction motor control software, which controls the charging and traction motor system, is also done in the centre here. Most locomotives use traction motors as the train brakes.
The battery locomotive takes the energy created by those traction motors to charge the batteries, just like in most electric cars today. By making its own power, the battery locomotive can run further than otherwise.
“We have even set up a facility in the laboratory here to simulate field conditions, supply real power through the components we test to check how they behave. This was all done during the pandemic,” says Madabhushi.
Wabtec has invested about $40 million on its India centre. Madabhushi says the engineering talent in India is as good as that in the US. The company hires from top institutes.