• M/W

Report: VA Tech Researchers Harness Energy From Moving Trains Into Usable Electricity

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
image description

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Center for Vehicle Systems and Safety (CVeSS) and the Railway Technologies Laboratory have created a new kind of crosstie that replaces the conventional wooden variety and is equipped to generate power from moving trains, transforming that energy into usable electricity, according to a report by The Roanoke Star.

According to The Roanoke Star report, “approximately 76% of the total miles on American railroad tracks are in rural areas that lack the electricity required for operating smart rail systems,” including such gear as wayside safety equipment, wireless communications and track health monitors.

“Delivering energy to that gear can be challenging,” said CVeSS Director Mehdi Ahmadian. “Solar panels are prone to being damaged or stolen, and power generators that use propane require servicing and refueling.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) through the University Transportation Center on Improving Rail Transportation Infrastructure Sustainability and Durability, CveSS researchers “set about coming up with a more durable solution that would provide energy to these devices, deter theft, and require minimal maintenance.”

According to The Roanoke Star report, the researchers’ high-tech tie is placed underneath the rail and topped with a heavy metal bar mounted on a spring. As the wheels of the train pass over the rail, the train’s weight pushes down on that bar, triggering a series of gears that rotate a generator and creating electricity, which can then be stored in a battery.

After developing the idea, the team created a prototype that was successfully tested in the lab prompting Ahmadian to start conversations about the technology with familiar industry partners. According to the report, Norfolk Southern (NS) agreed to host the deployment of the new rail on a section of its track this past August. Since that rollout, The Roanoke Star reports, the CVeSS team has been collecting data to “determine the amount of power that can be generated and the best ways to optimize the device’s design.”

According to The Roanoke Star report, as trains passed over the rail, researchers got “a clearer picture of how much power it might produce and how that power might be put into use.”

“For every wheel of the train that goes by, we are harvesting 15 to 20 watts of power,” said Ahmadian. “If we have a long train with maybe 200 railcars, that’s 800 wheels, making 1.6 kilowatts. Once we have stored that energy, we are able to use it to make the tracks more intelligent by embedding sensors in them.”

“Deploying their energy harvesting system could mean greater expansion of the vital sensor systems that keep railways safe,” The Roanoke Star reported.

“The ability to monitor the track with that technology is mostly absent, not because we don’t have the technology, but because it is difficult to bring power to the remote locations where those technologies are needed,” said Ahmadian. “If we remain successful, this promises to be a leap forward for bringing power accessibility to the railroad tracks.”

The research developed for this project was published in Applied Energy and the proceedings of the ASME/ IEEE Joint Rail Conference.


Tags: , , , ,