Many of the world’s trains operate on electricity drawn from the grid. Since they are constantly tied into a source of electricity through overhead power lines, unlike electric vehicles, they typically don’t include onboard electricity store like batteries. However, that could soon change thanks to some Chinese researchers.
A PhD student Chaoxian Wu at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University recently developed an algorithm for electric trains that paired with onboard electricity storage could improve train efficiency by 10 percent.
Right now, regenerative braking slows electric trains much in the same way regenerative braking works on EVs; the electric motor becomes a generator, slowing the train and at the same time turning kinetic energy into electricity. On an EV, however, that recaptured energy is sent back to the onboard batteries. On train, that energy is piped back into the grid.
If there is not another accelerating train nearby to absorb that regenerated energy, it mostly goes to waste.
Wu’s algorithm, however, would automate braking and accelerating duties. Thereby pinpointing the ideal time to either brake or accelerate — something a human driver cannot do as effectively. Added together with a way to store the regenerated energy onboard, Wu estimates trains could be a much as 10 percent more efficient.
Such gains in efficiency could significantly reduce the carbon emissions of producing energy to move trains. After all, most electricity in China is produced by coal-fired power plants.
Currently, Wu’s algorithm is just in the research stage. However, it demonstrates that the technology developed for electric powertrains and automation can be utilized in more than just cars. Trains, e-bikes, and electric scooters can utilize global research, too, in the efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve the environment.