Alternative power projects
To help the nation meet its energy and transportation goals, Norfolk Southern is committed to pursuing alternatives to our traditional diesel-burning locomotive fleet.
Employees in our research and tests group in Roanoke, Va., have been exploring a wide range of alternative fuels, from soybean-based biodiesel and electric engines to hydrogen fuel cells and high-powered engines fueled by ethanol. We approach these efforts knowing that some alternatives may never be practical for the commercial market. However, research and innovation can produce breakthroughs that will revolutionize the way the rail industry does business.
That’s why we keep trying. It is part and parcel of our pledge to be a sustainable corporation.
Below is a look at some of our major projects involving alternative energy or nontraditional locomotives.
NS 999 leads the charge
Norfolk Southern began developing a battery-powered locomotive in 2007, part of a larger initiative to explore alternative-powered engines to save on fuel costs, lower emissions, and reduce reliance on foreign oil sources.
Generating the amount of battery power needed to run a locomotive is much more challenging than that needed to run an automobile, and current battery technologies pose limitations for rail-industry applications. Essentially, we are pioneering the field of battery-powered locomotives.
In fall 2009, working with industry partners and scientists at Penn State University, we unveiled NS 999, a prototype electric four-axle switcher locomotive. The eco-friendly unit, built on a reused 1969 EMD GP38 body, was powered by a bank of 1,080 lead-acid batteries and equipped with a unique regenerative braking system designed to recharge the batteries during operation.
Since then, we have reworked the battery management system to address technical challenges that arose during trial field operations. In 2013, we plan to roll out the next generation NS 999, outfitted with a bank of more technologically advanced hybrid lead-carbon batteries developed by industry partner Axion Power International.
In addition to NS 999, we are continuing work on a prototype battery-powered road locomotive that would move freight over long distances.
We are optimistic that our latest efforts will provide a foundation for development of affordable battery-powered locomotives.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Gibson Barbee, our senior engineer of energy, who has been involved with NS 999 from the start. “It’s all about perseverance, to continue working and moving forward.”
Cleaner, more efficient road locomotive
We have worked with industry partners, Progress Rail Services and Caterpillar, since 2008 to help develop the PR43C, a six-axle 4300-horsepower road locomotive equipped with a unique dual diesel-engine system. To achieve maximum fuel efficiency and lower emissions, the locomotive relies on a 700-horsepower engine to operate at lower throttle notches and while idling. When the need for power increases, a larger, C-136 advanced technology, 3600-horsepower engine begins running. Together, the engines can generate the full 4300 horsepower.
We are operating 10 of the PR43C units. Six feature an innovative power-sharing system designed to further optimize fuel efficiency by allowing them to start and stop the engines of companion locomotives as needed while pulling a train.
Another environmental benefit of the PR43C program is that Progress Rail is reusing older SD50 and SD60 locomotive frames, saving on energy and manufacturing costs of building new while extending the useful life of a railroad workhorse.
Synthetic Biodiesel Shows Promise
In 2012, Norfolk Southern became the first U.S. railroad to begin using a 100 percent biodiesel fuel made from waste animal fats and grease. We used the synthetic diesel to fuel locomotives at our rail terminal in Meridian, Miss., which is near the Geismar, La., plant that produced the alternative diesel.
The pure biodiesel – made by Dynamic Fuels, LLC, a 50/50 joint venture owned by Tyson Foods, Inc. and Syntroleum Corporation – is fully compatible with our diesel-electric locomotives and did not require engine modifications. Based on lab tests, synthetic diesel in our locomotives emits less nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter than petroleum diesel.
In addition to environmental benefits, use of the home-grown fuel supports growth of the U.S. economy and its manufacturing base.
“We took a byproduct that previously was a waste and turned it into an alternative fuel source useful to everyone,” said Ken Jensen, our director of purchasing. “This helped us to diversify our fuel supplier base in an economically and environmentally viable way.”
Using biofuels in Illinois
Since 2010, we have partnered with locomotive maker Electro-Motive Diesel to test blends of a fuel additive made from another home-grown and renewable energy source – vegetable-based biodiesel.
After extensive testing, we began fueling locomotives in Chicago and Decatur, Ill., with an approximately 10 percent biodiesel blend. We’re now using 1 million to 1.5 million gallons of the biodiesel blend every month to run locomotives in the state. A state tax credit that eliminates payment of Illinois’ 6.25 percent fuel tax on certain biofuel blends and a federal tax credit have offset the higher production costs associated with biodiesel.
Initiatives to provide energy-efficient or renewable energy based on products and services, and reductions in energy requirements as a result of these initiatives.