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Broad College goes green with program on alternative power for railways

The Center for Railway Research and Education in the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University completed the inaugural session of its new continuing education program titled, Railway Motive Power and Alternative Propulsion.

truckThe program, attended by 11 experienced managers responsible for railway motive power and emissions reduction, was held in Long Beach, CA over 2½ days. California’s focus on emissions and air quality determined the location.

This field is developing rapidly. Europe has set targets of completely phasing out diesel fuel for trains in the 2030s, and extensive research and development of alternative fuels such as batteries, natural gas and hydrogen fuel cells, for road vehicles is under way.

The program was led by Andreas Hoffrichter, whose Ph.D. thesis was the world’s first on hydrogen fuel cells for railway motive power applications. Hoffrichter is recognized as an expert on railway adoption of alternate propulsion to minimize emissions, decrease energy consumption and reduce operating cost.

Lectures were supported with guest subject matter expert presentations. Site visits were included to see alternate propulsion in heavy trucking, battery-powered automated guided vehicle container movers and electric cranes in the port of Long Beach, and a manufacturer of electric streetcars that run on power systems not requiring expensive, unsightly and potentially hazardous wayside infrastructure to power the cars (such as overhead catenary or surface-mounted third rail electricity transmission).

Attendees from regulatory bodies, consulting organizations, research facilities, rail operators and suppliers to the rail industry were represented. Feedback indicated that the program delivered much-needed new information, opportunity to network with people facing similar innovation challenges, and the chance to see emerging technologies in use.

This field is developing rapidly. Europe has set targets of completely phasing out diesel fuel for trains in the 2030’s, and extensive research and development of alternative fuels such as batteries, natural gas and hydrogen fuel cells, for road vehicles is under way.

MSU intends to repeat the program in early 2020.

FAST FACTS

  • Demand for transportation is expected to grow 40 percent by 2045
  • Transportation is responsible for almost 30 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S.
  • Some 92 percent of energy consumed for transportation is derived from petroleum
  • The transportation sector ranks second in the U.S. for greenhouse gas emissions (27 percent and growing)
  • In 2016, U.S. railroads used over 3.4 billion gallons of diesel fuel supplying 94 percent of rail propulsion energy
  • Bio-fuels and electricity (largely from non-renewable sources) account for only 6 percent
  • Approximately 43 percent of U.S. freight by volume is moved by rail
  • 87 percent of finished automobiles manufactured in the U.S. travel by rail for part of their delivery

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