Battery–electric trains can deliver
TOPICS:Battery TechnologyDOEEnergyLawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
By LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY NOVEMBER 27, 2021
Trains have been on the sidelines of electrification efforts for a long time in the U.S. because they account for only 2% of transportation sector emissions, but diesel freight trains emit 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually and produce air pollution that leads to $6.5 billion in health costs, resulting in an estimated 1,000 premature deaths each year. What’s more, these deaths and adverse health impacts disproportionately affect disadvantaged and low-income communities, which are more likely to be located near freight rail yards and railways.
The recent dramatic decline in battery prices has created a new possibility for electrification of freight trains. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), collaborating with UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers, make the case that the U.S. can retrofit diesel-electric trains with batteries in a way that is cost-competitive with diesel. Doing so would avoid these unnecessary deaths and health impacts and save the U.S. freight rail sector $94 billion over 20 years from reduced air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Their study was recently published in the journal Nature Energy.
“A rapid conversion of the freight-rail sector is not only technically feasible and cost-effective, it would bring immediate and lasting health and economic benefits to lower income communities,” said Natalie Popovich, Berkeley Lab scientist and lead author of the study. “And it would provide a boost to our nation’s efforts to curb climate change, especially considering that U.S. freight rail capacity is expected to double by 2050.”
Trains play a significant role in moving goods throughout the U.S., particularly heavy freight such as coal, lumber, and ore. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, 28% of U.S. freight is moved around the country by rail, and that percentage is expected to grow substantially in the next couple of decades. At the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the U.S. joined a dozen other countries in signing onto new agreements to curtail shipping emissions, and zero-emissions solutions for freight rail transport will be part of that commitment.