Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Battery advancements look promising

Better batteries could change the energy mix for consumers. Auto manufacturers are looking at lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. These batteries have a high energy-to-weight ratio.

The Chevy Volt, a new plug-in hybrid, reportedly can run about 40 miles on its batteries.

Scientists working on cutting-edge battery technology are developing lithium-air batteries, which they believe could provide tenfold the performance of lithium-ion batteries.

The idea behind a lithium-air battery is that it pulls oxygen from the atmosphere for its charge, meaning the battery can be smaller and lighter than existing batteries. But commercializaton of this technology could still be 10 years away, researchers say.

One railroad took a different approach in its efforts to come up with a fully electric train not tied to the grid.

In late September, Norfolk Southern Railway introduced a prototype locomotive powered by 1,080 12-v lead-acid batteries. The railroad’s research found lead-acid batteries to be the most cost effective, the Black & Veatch Pathfinder newsletter reported in its October online edition.

“The engine, which is used for moving rolling stock around its Rose Yard in Altoona, Pa., puts out 1,500 hp with zero exhaust fumes,” wrote Samuel Glasser, a Pathfinder editor in Black & Veatch’s Long Island office.

In September, Norfolk Southern Corp. issued its second annual sustainability report, including the company’s first measurement of its greenhouse gases produced from operations. About 90% was carbon dioxide emissions from diesel-burning locomotives.

Norfolk Southern calculated its total carbon footprint for 2008 was 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. That compares with a US total of 7.2 billion tonnes during 2007.

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