In future, energy from batteries of electric cars parked in front of railway stations could be used to cheaply power trains

Electric car batteries could help power railways

The batteries of electric cars parked at train stations could be used to power trains during peak times, a new project proposes.

The new project from the universities of Sheffield and Southampton will investigate novel energy storage options that would enable trains to run more cheaply by using electricity from car batteries instead of buying expensively from the grid.

As part of the £1.5m TransEnergy project, the team will build a pioneering facility alongside a train line to test the concepts.

"Electric-powered rail travel has helped to reduce pollution and improve the comfort of travellers,” said Martin Foster from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

“Our project will look at how we can meet the demand for more electricity on our railways by investigating innovative ways to store surplus energy. Similar energy storage systems are already being used on the electricity grid during peak times and by translating these to our railways, we could deliver real benefits to both rail companies and consumers.”

The team envisions that in future, electric-car owners could be offered free parking tickets in exchange for lending their car’s batteries to the railway’s back-up energy network.

The TransEnergy project, supported by National Rail and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will investigate two types of energy storage - batteries and supercapacitors - as a hybrid solution for the high levels of electricity needed to power trains accelerating and charge from trains braking.

“Network Rail is committed to electrifying more lines in the UK,” said James Ambrose, Principal Engineer for Network Rail. “Our project will be working with rail providers to recommend new approaches that will mean increased efficiency for the industry.”

Network Rail envisions the innovative energy-storage solution will allow running more frequently services while reducing the price of tickets.

A recent report by the National Infrastructure Commission has suggested that energy storage technologies could contribute to innovations that could save consumers up to £8bn a year by 2030, help the UK meet its 2050 carbon targets, and secure the UK’s energy supply for generations.

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