The last one to laugh is said to get the best laugh. In the case of renewable energy, the latest laugh riot has been sparked by a proposal to MacGyver a sort of rolling hydropower system that leverages regenerative braking from an electric truck fleet. Some are still laughing, but the new “Infinity Train” unveiled by the global mining giant Fortescue indicates that the last and best laugh is yet to come.
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What Is So Funny About An Electric Truck Hydropower Scheme?
The idea behind the electric truck hydropower scheme is simple. You send an electric truck with a large container up to the top of a mountain, fill it with water from mountaintop streams, and send it down the mountain again.
Weight, gravity, and regenerative braking do the rest. The truck arrives at its destination with its battery pack charged to the gills. The battery can discharge to a local grid, or the truck can be sent to other locations where emergency power is needed. Either way, the trick is to reserve a bit of charge for the trip back uphill, minus the weight of the water which is sent back into a local stream.
If that sounds a bit goofy, it does sound a bit goofy. However, the context is important. If the challenge is to scavenge renewable energy in mountain regions without building significant new infrastructure, then putting free-running streams and existing roadways to use begins to make a bit of sense.
The Electric Truck Mining Operation Inspiration
Goofy or not, the research team behind the electric truck hydropower proposal did not pull the idea out of a hat. They were apparently inspired by the use of an electric truck at a mining site in Poland, which is able to make its back-and-forth trips powered only by the electricity generated from its brakes.
Based on a reference link provided by the hydropower-on-wheels research team, the electric truck in question was the Elektro Dumper, aka the eDumper, a massive mining truck originally developed by the firm Kuhn Schweitz. The idea of a self-charging electric truck caught the eye of the EV battery firm Lithium System, and now it has a Swiss manufacturer under the name of eMining.
When last heard from, eMining was still pitching “eDumper no. 1,” meaning that the company aims to sell more of these items with a laser-like focus on performance.
“Electric motors deliver torques of thousands of newton metres (Nm) and a far higher range of speeds than conventional engines. In terms of the energy requirement, the numerous accessory drive systems (e.g. hydraulic pumps, cooling systems) must also be considered,” eMining explains, adding that “Extremely high charging currents are produced by the kinetic energy recovery system.”
The company also counts no (or low) maintenance and a much quieter ride in the plus column, along with its Swiss-made pedigree.
Enter The Infinity Train
If you have any recent news about eMining and the eDumper electric truck, drop us a note in the comment thread. Meanwhile, Fortescue is applying the same electric truck idea to ore trains.
The electric train project came under the Fortescue umbrella through its acquisition of the UK firm Williams Advanced Engineering. WAE retains its independence while coordinating its battery tech division with Fortescue under the Fortescue Future Industries branch.
As described by Fortescue, the new Infinity Train is an iron ore carrier that will “use gravitational energy to fully recharge its battery electric systems without any additional charging requirements for the return trip to reload.”
It appears that one Infinity Train is not nearly enough. The technology is still under study, but Fortescue has already outlined plans to incorporate the electric train throughout its rail system, which currently consists of 16 train sets, each stringing along 244 rail cars with a total capacity of 34,404 tons. That’s a lot of regenerative braking going on.
Fortescue expects that system-wide use of the Infinity Train has the potential to chop about 11% off its Scope 1 emissions, based on the consumption of 82 million liters of diesel fuel for its rail operations in FY 2021.
What’s Up With Williams Advanced Engineering?
If the name Williams Advanced Engineering doesn’t ring a bell, it should. Though the Infinity Train appears to be WAE’s first dip into the electric locomotive waters, CleanTechnica has been charting the company’s zero emission adventures in the area of racing cars, motorcycles, and even folding bikes.
WAE has also hooked up with the South Carolina branch of the global firm Jankel to help electrify the US Department of Defense’s massive vehicle fleet.
That’s a tough row to hoe, but the DOD has been making some moves towards fleet electrification in recent months, and other firms are also eyeballing zero emission opportunities in the sprawling agency.
“The partnership will combine complementary technologies and capabilities to help progress military hybrid and electrification projects no matter what the size, from a light tactical vehicle to a main battle tank,” Jankel explains. “The experience, innovation and engineering expertise of both companies will be combined to leverage the integration, problem solving, and tailored approach required to solve the military problem set.”
Rounding out WAE’s electrification experience is a hybrid hydrogen/battery-electric truck in the works, in collaboration with the mining firm Anglo American, so stay tuned for more on that.
When last heard from, Anglo American was also embarking on a feasibility study that would apply the hybrid concept to electric freight trains in Australia, so that’s another angle to keep an eye on.
For those of you keeping score at home, Anglo American has also expressed a commitment to the all-important green hydrogen field, instead of relying on fossil gas or coal to supply its hydrogen fuel.
The green hydrogen angle circles back around to Fortescue, which has been promoting the green hydrogen industry in Russia. The company shut that door after Russia launched its murderous rampage through Ukraine, with Fortescue Metals Group Chairman Andrew Forrest widely reported to urge other companies to leave with the chilling words, “Get out now. It is blood money.”
Anglo American has no operations in either Ukraine or Russia, but it, too, has publicly condemned the unprovoked, brutal attack on a peaceful nation and has pledged assistance for refugees.
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Photo: Locomotive hauling freight cars in Australia courtesy of Fortescue.