Railroad Energy Efficiency

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Technology faculty working for greener railroad

There is no more efficient, or greener, way to move freight from Point A to Point B than railroads. Diesel locomotives can move a ton of freight 436 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel…but researchers at Northern Illinois University think they can improve on that.

The Department of Technology in NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has received a $1 million grant to study ways to make locomotives more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.

Five faculty teams are looking at a wide variety of ways to make rail freight more efficient ranging from the introduction of biofuels, to improving the lubricants used in engines and on rails. They are even studying the feasibility of replacing the diesel power plants in locomotives with fuel cells. They are also investigating ways to incorporate new and exotic materials to make locomotive components tougher, more efficient and more aerodynamic.

The research is being aided by a partnership with the Norfolk Southern Railroad, but the lessons learned by NIU researchers (and the students assisting them) could benefit the entire industry. In an industry where companies spend billions of dollars on fuel each year, even a 1 percent improvement in fuel efficiency could result in annual savings of $100 million or more.