Wabtec to use GM technology to develop electric freight locomotives

Wabtec to use GM technology to develop electric freight locomotives

Wabtec Corporation, a leading supplier of freight car and locomotive products, has confirmed that it has signed a nonbinding pact with General Motor Company (GM) to build locomotive engines using the Detroit-headquartered automaker’s Ultium electric battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel-cell system.

Under the terms of the agreement, GM will be responsible for developing and supplying its Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell systems for Pittsburgh-headquartered Wabtec’s electric freight locomotives.
Wabtec recently announced that it has developed a 430,000-pound FLXdrive prototype, which is said to be the world’s first fully electric freight locomotive. It uses a whopping 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells. It has been developed using a grant of $22.6 million from the California Air Resource Board.

Now, the European company has plans to build a second-generation locomotive with a 6 megawatt-hour battery capacity. It represents an energy level that can trim down a locomotive’s fuel consumption as well as carbon emissions by around 30 per cent. According to the company’s plans, a fleet of second-generation FLXdrives should commercially enter supply chain routes in the next few years. The Wabtec-GM agreement is expected to accelerate the pace of de-carbonization of the rail industry.

In May this year, the European manufacturer announced this innovative locomotive's efficiency gains and demonstrated the huge machine’s ability to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 11 per cent. As per the company, this would be equal to saving as many as 6,200 gallons of diesel and eliminating the emissions of roughly 69 tons of CO2.

Announcing the agreement, Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana said, “By working with GM on Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel-cell technologies, we can accelerate the rail industry’s path to decarbonization and pathway to zero-emission locomotives by leveraging these two important propulsion technologies.”

The newly signed agreement will also benefit GM as it will provide the American automaker with another way to capitalize of its Ultium battery technology and hydrogen fuel-cell system. The American automaker sold its locomotive business for an undisclosed sum in 2005, and it has been out of this business since then.

The shipments of Wabtec’s second-generation electric locomotive are expected to begin sometime in 2023. However, the company hasn’t disclosed volume targets. Currently, the European company has 23,000 freight locomotives around the globe and it has plans to replace them all over the next few years with environment-friendly electric engines.