Freight trains are already three times more fuel efficient than over-the-road trucks, and 400 miles or less seems to be the only place where trucks beat trains in overall efficiency. Yet the times necessitate innovation and invention from all.
Union Pacific, GE and Mother Nature teamed up in Oakland on Friday morning for an outstanding presentation of joint efforts in the Green Locomotive Technology Tour. With the cost of energy wearing our wallets ever thinner, our planet less and less sustainable and our cultures less amenable, it was heartening to see two giants in the infrastructure and transportation fields promote their recent efforts in Green Technology.
The old fashioned whistle stop tour has not lost its charm amongst the industries innovations. While attendance was spotty, those who braved the bright sunshine and crisp gentle breezes were treated to a well researched and thoughtful tour, complete with an engineer’s simulator experience.
The innovations fell into three categories: Retrofitting old engines; what to build/do now; what is the near future technology of locomotives. Union Pacific started pioneering the Genset switcher in Long Beach. For this switcher, the engine is replaced with three Tier 3 certified off –road diesel engines, while the cab, platform and trucks (wheel assemblies) remain the same. This allows for powering up or down as needed, saving 16% in fuel consumption and reducing NOx and particulate matter emissions by 80-90%.
The Oxicat long-haul locomotive experiment is essentially an after market catalytic converter for a high-horse power, long-haul locomotive. More formally referred to as an oxidation catalyst filter, Oxicat is installed inside the diesel engine’s exhaust manifold. During static testing, using ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, Union Pacific found a 50% particulate reduction.
The third retrofit technology was aimed at low-horsepower, yard locomotives. It is a filter, referred to as DPF, which uses high temperature silicon carbide blocks to filter and burn-off exhaust particulates. DPF reduces NOx emissions and the burn-off is converted to carbon dioxide and water.
GE’s pride and joy (recipient of 8 years and $3billion in research and development) the GE Evolution Series of locomotives incorporates the best of existing diesel engineering with new technology. The result was a new hybrid cooling system, enhanced microprocessor controls, a reduction in cylinders from 16 to 12, which produce the same 4,400 horsepower, use less fuel, and have better diagnostics and fewer emissions. GE likes to point out that if every freight train in North America were pulled by an Evolution Series Locomotive, the annual reduction in NOx emissions would be equivalent to removing 48million cars from the road each year. By the end of the year they will have built and delivered 2,000 Evolution Series locomotives, such as the GEVO 12.
An engine’s fuel consumption is not only governed by design, but by execution as well. Driving styles and skills, recognized as major factors in fuel efficiency are monitored along side fuel usage by computer. In the vein of fuel conservation, Union Pacific instituted their Fuel Masters Program; where by the top 20% of the most frugal engineers are rewarded each month
As for the near future, GE wants to harness and store all the energy lost to braking. Their hurdle, like everyone’s is energy storage.
As for my shot at the engineer’s simulator, well Casey Jones has no worries