ARENA backs battery-operated freight train

Rail freight hauler Aurizon will develop and trial a battery to power a diesel-electric locomotive, backed by $9.4 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Andrew Harding: tapping into renewable energy

The government hopes it’s a step towards running heavy haulage and general freight routes on battery technology, and has hailed the project as an exciting step for the regional transport sector.

Alta Battery Technology (Alta) will design and construct the 1.8 MWh battery-electric tender (BET)  at Aurizon’s Townsville facility.

The BET will utilise Alta’s DC-to-DC converter which connects diesel assets to electric power sources, specifically for high voltage systems, Managing Director Roy Zou says.

“We are delighted to be the technology partner on this project, providing innovative solutions that will shape the future of the rail freight industry in Australia and beyond,” Mr Zou said in a statement.

“The use of this technology will alleviate the need to replace existing assets with completely electric assets, saving businesses money, and expediting their path to carbon-neutral/net zero.”

Decarbonising supply chains

Aurizon estimates the BET could eventually provide up to 50 per cent of the required power on suitable commercial haulage routes.

Aurizon’s Managing Director & CEO Andrew Harding says by delivering a locomotive fleet that can tap into renewable energy sources, the rail industry can do the heavy-lifting in decarbonising Australian transport supply chains.

“We are committed to making a transition towards net zero operational emissions based on a locomotive fleet that uses zero emissions technologies, is flexible and suited to the challenging Australian conditions in which we operate,” he said. 

The BEL curve

The BET, which will be charged with renewable energy, will initially be trialled across one of Aurizon’s customer haulage routes on a modified battery-electric locomotive (BEL).

Aurizon started work on Australia’s first  BEL in May 2023 with a prototype expected to start on-track trials in late 2025. The technology is expected to deliver freight on hauls of up to 400 kilometres.

The modified locomotive (image: Aurizon)

The BET, when coupled with the battery-electric locomotive, aims to extend the future range for freight hauls up to 850 kilometres. Trials are expected to commence in early 2026.

Decarbonising freight rail

Solutions like the one being trialled by Aurizon will help deliver cleaner transport in Australia, transport and infrastructure minister Catherine King says.

“Most of the emissions from railway freight come from the consumption of diesel, so this trial is an important first step to decarbonise our freight rail system and shows the importance of government and industry working together to find the best ways to meet our net zero target,” she said in a statement.

Aurizon operates more than 600 locomotives serving 40-plus customers and transporting 250 million tonnes of commodities nationally.

It is also working with multinational mining company Anglo American on a feasibility study to assess the introduction of hydrogen-powered trains for bulk freight. 

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