All Aboard Energy-Efficient Rail Transportation

Trams, trains and trolleys are perfect applications for capacitive energy storage. Hundreds of tons of steel speed into a train station, and brake to offload and load hundreds of passengers, then accelerate as efficiently as possible to the next station to do it all over again. An immense amount of energy is dissipated in slowing down and stopping enormous, segmented people-movers as they snake their way into the station. That energy is all lost if not for ultracapacitors. And when trains propel out of the station, they require a similar amount of energy. Capturing and repurposing that energy over and over is what capacitive energy storage is all about. 

Power and energy combine in the optimum proportion for the unlimited cycling required of the electrified rail lines of today and the future. The rail application is the next big thing. It might not be as big as grid energy storage for ultracapacitors, but the rail business is going to get out to an early lead.

Look for the rail market to start to blossom and send the ultracapacitor business skyward along with it. Mass transit has already found its place in the future energy-efficient world we are creating, and the rail business is the next logical major participant. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has demonstrated super efficiency and significant economic benefits of rail energy capture and deployment. Replicating that model is a slam-dunk, and it cannot happen fast enough; every day lost is a day behind in the path toward optimized energy efficient transportation.

America needs to get on board, stop building roads and auto infrastructure, and develop more public transport. The argument is it's too expensive, but is it really? What we are doing today is the expensive solution – and not just from an economic perspective. Rail infrastructure is one of the great answers to a growing population that will clog the highways and byways until they cannot serve their intended function. I expect that in 2025, when I climb into my electric vehicle to make my way home after work, I will enter a highway system that is incapable of getting me there. That is not a vision I look forward to. I would gladly jump onto a hybrid-electric train knowing that when we stop at each station, the energy expelled to halt the train is being shuttled to the grid to help provide stable power for a hairdryer, a washing machine and scores of other applications elsewhere. Now, that is a vision I look forward to. 

3 comments on “All Aboard Energy-Efficient Rail Transportation

  1. dates
    September 11, 2015

    Isn't this already available via a bi-directional power conversion topology that can take the energy from the motor, now acting as a generator, to supply energy back into the power distribution system.

  2. David Ashton
    September 12, 2015

    Couldn't agree more.  I'd agree with the above comment on regenerative braking but this (a) needs another load to use the power and (b) there are losses through the system if there are no other loads nearby.  So Ultracapacitors are a good solution, store the power locally.

    I had no idea ultracapacitors were anywhere near ready for this sort of bulk energy storage, but from your link it seems they are – figures of 10-20% efficiency improvement are given, not to be sneezed at.  They also mention Solar energy firming, surely a huge market for this technology.

    Our Government (Australia) is always on about how renewable energy cannot supply base load (so we need to keep mining coal…)  A bit more development of this technology and it will be able to do so.  Bring it on!

  3. Jean-Luc.Suchail
    September 16, 2015

    There was already a paper on regenerative breaking for commuting railways published in GEC review 25 years ago by RL Mc Naughton. Using supercaps is an add on to regeneration storing energy locally. Maybe higher efficiency. Hbrid buses use ultracaps as they cannot regenerate inside the grid….

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