As the value proposition and benefits of battery-enabled electrification spread to new industries, novel solutions are emerging.
In one of the more recent developments, Swedish railway industry provider, Railcare, has launched a world-first project to deliver a zero-emissions, battery-powered railway maintenance vehicle.
“We want to be at the forefront of innovation, and this project, built around partnership with Epiroc, represents that ambition,” said Daniel Öholm, CEO Railcare Group AB.
Outlining the origins of the project, Daniel commented that the work began two years ago.
“We began to think about what would be the next generation for our machines; how will they work, how will they look, and what can they do differently? We worked on this for some time, but in the end the outcome became clear when we looked towards the switch to a battery-powered drivetrain.”
Although replacing diesel-powered engines with electric represents a major change for Railcare, Daniel believes it reflects a clear and decisive response to the current and future circumstances that the company faces.
“A large amount of our activities involve work underground in urban environments. Here, if you work with diesel engines, you encounter a lot of issues with exhaust emissions that can be tackled through electrifying our systems.”
“With batteries we can also reduce our carbon footprint, and that’s something our customers were asking for. It’s really the start of an exciting new chapter for railway industries.”
The ambitions crystallized into work to develop a prototype zero-emission Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) which can support a variety of Railcare’s maintenance tools, including snow melters and machines for handling ballast (ballast feeders and ballast removers).
“The self-propelled MPV was the natural place to begin testing out such a novel concept,” said Daniel, adding that with it Railcare can work towards testing how batteries might power the additional tools that the MPV can support.
To realize the MPV, Railcare have teamed up with Epiroc, a world-leader in mining and infrastructure industries and a Northvolt partner.
Epiroc holds unmatched experience in electrification of heavy industry vehicles and is providing its electric driveline technology and battery technology platform, built around Northvolt battery systems, to Railcare for development of the MPV.
The collaboration is the first to be run through Epiroc’s new subdivision committed to advancing battery-powered machinery, Rocvolt.
A render of the battery-powered Railcare MPV, with battery systems to be built by Northvolt (click to enlarge).
Since Epiroc’s line-up of battery-powered systems was designed with the mining industry in mind it is well-matched to Railcare’s vision.
“Mines and railways can be similarly tough environments to work in, and Epiroc have the experience required to deliver a physically robust product that is built for high-power requirements of heavy industry operations,” explained Daniel.
Of the partnership, Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s Senior Executive Vice President Mining & Infrastructure, stated: “We are happy about this cooperation with Railcare as it is a natural step for Epiroc to collaborate around the technology that we have developed for our underground equipment.”
“Cooperating with forward-thinking companies around the battery technology is important to drive volume and reduce costs. This will speed up the electrification process.”
“We’re going to be the first to get a battery-powered system on the railway.”
Daniel Öholm, CEO Railcare Group AB
Epiroc’s battery-electric technology is built around a modular platform, which means it can readily be scaled up to meet particular system power requirements.
Ulf Marklund, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Railcare explained: “The MPV will come installed power of over 1000 kWh. We believe that MPV will be the first and largest battery-powered vehicle on the railway.”
“The MPV is built on a 20m long railway wagon and has two drive shafts for its own operation on the workplace. The prototype is equipped with three vacuum pumps, which allows one to connect a material container and use MPV as a Railvac (vacuum cleaner). However, the MPV could of course be used as a towing vehicle for ballast carriage, snow plow, etc.”
Daniel added: “The project represents a big challenge, but we’re using a well-developed platform with Epiroc and that’s a great source of confidence.”
Development in Skellefteå
Development of the Railcare MPV is already underway at the company’s workshop at Skellefteå harbor, northern Sweden, and Daniel reports that the company anticipates the initial phase of prototype development will be completed in late autumn ahead of a period of testing and validation.
“Battery-powered drivetrains have been proven on other systems in other industries, but we need to proceed through that for ourselves. We’re in front of innovation as we want to be, and confident with the partners we have in Epiroc and Northvolt.”
Though trialling the MPV prototype will take place in Sweden, Daniel is convinced that the solution will be attractive in other markets too: “These are universal problems we’re tackling, and the solutions can be applied anywhere.”
Altogether, Railcare envisions the project establishing an industry concept for an entirely battery-powered system capable of ballast removal and ballast placement – something Daniel describes as a core activity of the rail industry.
“By introducing a successful concept in this area, we hope to set a new standard in technology and sustainable thinking within the industry. I truly believe this is the future for railway industry machines and I think that when others see these new technologies working, they won’t want to go back. It’s a challenge, but it’s the future I’m quite sure about that.”