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Rail News: Norfolk Southern Railway

Penn State researchers seek ways to to prolong battery life for NS' electric locomotive

A team of Penn State University researchers is trying to develop more cost-effective ways to prolong battery life for an all-electric, battery-powered locomotive owned by Norfolk Southern Railway.

When one of the thousand rechargeable lead-acid batteries in the locomotive dies, the unit shuts down. The leading cause: sulfation, a degradation of the battery caused by frequent charging and discharging, which creates an accumulation of lead sulfate, according to the researchers. In a recent U.S. Department of Energy-funded study, they sought ways to improve regular battery management practices.

Ultimately, the researchers designed a charging algorithm that could charge the battery and reduce sulfation, and cease battery charging before other forms of degradation occurred. The algorithm successfully revived a dead cell, and increased cell capacity by 41 percent and overall battery capacity by 30 percent.

Now, the researchers are trying to develop alternative models that would allow charging up to, but not past, sulfation in batteries where the degradation isn't yet present.

Penn State and NS began developing the battery-powered locomotive in 2008 to evaluate the application of battery technologies for rail applications, as well as to conserve energy and reduce emissions.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/4/2013