News

Aircraft Tractors and Railroad Locomotives going Hybrid

October 10, 2013 by Jeff Shepard

Saft Batteries has been awarded a contract by Kalmar Motor to supply a state-of-the-art lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery system for the world’s first hybrid electric tractor suitable for wide body aircraft. The contract for the TBL 800, that will shortly be trialed at one of Germany’s leading airports, represents a significant entry by Saft into the airport ground-handling sector. Also this week, Axion Power International, Inc., announced that Gibson Barbee, P.E. of Norfolk Southern Railroad and Philippe Westreich, PhD of Axion Power will make a joint presentation at the 7th Annual ASME Rail Transportation Division Fall Technical Conference updating the progress of the NS 999 Electric Switcher -- a hybrid locomotive that is powered by strings of PbC batteries supplied by Axion Power to Norfolk Southern.

The airport tractor sector is both fast growing, with the world’s airports serving more than 5.7 billion passengers in 2012 – up by 4.4 percent on 2011 – and is also facing new challenges in providing energy efficient and low emission operations. Ground handling tractors play a vital role at airports by enabling large aircraft to be moved from their hangars to the passenger gate, as well as for the pushback to prepare for taxiing to the runway. Total reliability, round the clock, every day of the year and in all weather conditions is crucial, since the operation has to be completed within a very tight window of only around 20 minutes, and any delay can disrupt flight schedules. Kalmar Motor was the pioneer of the unique TBL towbarless tractor concept. It is now developing a new generation hybrid TBL 800 suitable for even large wide body aircraft, such as the Airbus 380, that will enable airports to cut their use of diesel-driven tractors to address growing demands for reduced environmental emissions.

The high energy storage provided by the Saft Li-ion battery system will fully power the TBL 800’s electric drive throughout its shift, from early morning to late at night. The fast-recharging capability offered by the Li-ion battery makes this possible by facilitating regenerative braking as well as charging during break periods when it is not in use. For total security, the TBL 800 is also fitted with a diesel unit that cuts in to charge the battery before it is fully discharged, ensuring that the vehicle can never be stranded.

“Hybrid power, with energy storage provided by Saft Li-ion technology operating in combination with diesel generators is already well proven in a wide variety of materials handling applications, including harbour cranes. We are delighted to have this new opportunity with Kalmar Motor to progress into the aircraft ground-handling sector as part of our industrial vehicle strategy,” said Olivier Amiel, Saft Vehicle Business Unit Director.

The Kalmar Motor TBL 800 battery system will be based on Saft Li-ion technology developed to provide maintenance-free energy storage in a reduced volume, combining high operational reliability over thousands of cycles with outstanding energy efficiency. Saft is supplying a fully integrated energy storage solution including a battery management system. The first demonstration unit will be deployed shortly at a major airport in Germany.

In another development highlighting the growing diversity of hybrid drive applications, Gibson Barbee, P.E. of Norfolk Southern and Philippe Westreich, PhD of Axion Power International will make a joint presentation at the 7th Annual ASME Rail Transportation Division Fall Technical Conference updating the progress of the NS 999 Electric Switcher -- a hybrid locomotive that is powered by strings of PbC batteries supplied by Axion Power to Norfolk Southern. The conference will take place October 15-17 in Altoona, PA.

In the presentation, Barbee and Westreich, Lab and Test Director for Axion Power, will discuss the close collaboration between Norfolk Southern and Axion Power and their shared excitement about the potential that battery-powered locomotives offer over traditional diesel fuels. Dr. Westreich has been managing the joint "yard switcher" program for Axion and is also managing the "over the road" locomotive project that Norfolk Southern and Axion have undertaken.

Axion Power Chairman and CEO Tom Granville commented, "We were pleased to read the positive comments that Norfolk Southern made in their July 2013 published Sustainability Report with respect to the NS 999 and with respect to their continuing collaboration with 'industry partner Axion Power International'. (That section of their sustainability report can be found here: http://bit.ly/153097W.) We believe that PbC batteries have the potential to become widespread power sources for America's rail lines because of their ability to operate in partial state of charge applications, recharge quickly from regenerative braking opportunities when they are available, and particularly because of our batteries' inherent voltage equalization, especially in large string applications. We are very pleased and proud to be working with Norfolk Southern on this important alternative energy project, which will significantly reduce greenhouse gases and lead to a cleaner and greener environment."