$9.4m battery train trial set for Townsville

Brandon How

Battery-powered trains could soon be criss-crossing central Queensland after the Australian Renewable Energy Agency awarded a $9.4 million grant to retrofit existing rolling stock.

Australia’s largest freight hauler Aurizon will develop and trial a 1.8MWh battery-electric tender (BET) in partnership with Alta Battery Technology, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Huashi Group.

A tender is a unit in a diesel-electric train that carries the fuel or energy source for a locomotive. Aurizon currently operates around 700 locomotives across the country.

The initial work, valued at $18.8 million overall, will be undertaken at Aurizon’s Townsville facility before BET is trialed in a hybrid diesel and battery configuration in early 2026.

Touted by Australian Renewable Energy Agency chief executive Darren Miller as a world-first proof-0f-concept, the project will also include the installation of recharging infrastructure at an Aurizon customer.

An Aurizon diesel-electric freight train. Image: LinkedIn

In the long-term, Aurizon expects that BET could provide up to 50 per cent of power needs along commercial haulage routes. It also hopes to develop a battery-electric locomotive that replaces the need for diesel along existing rail infrastructure.

Alta Battery Technology develops lithium-ion battery solutions for the decarbonisation of heavy machinery, including large mining trucks, forklifts, cranes, excavators, and off-grid storage. It is a subsidiary of Chinese electronics and heavy machinery manufacturer Huashi Group.

While its international headquarters was set up in Melbourne in mid-2022, the company is setting up a workshop in Townsville where it will design and construct the BET unit for Aurizon.

Alta’s main manufacturing, battery assembly, and research and development facilities are based in China. It’s core partners include the world’s largest rolling stock manufacturer China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation and the world’s largest lithium-ion battery firm CATL.

Transport and Infrastructure minister Catherine King said the project “is an important first step to decarbonise our freight rail system and shows the importance of government and industry working together to find the best ways to meet our net zero target”.

Climate Change and Energy minister Chris Bowen said “Aurizon’s innovative technology is an exciting step in the future of electrification for the transport sector, particularly in the regions”.

In May 2023, Aurizon also announced a partnership with Caterpillar subsidiary Progress Rail to develop a battery-powered freight unit that could partially recharge when a train applied its brakes or traveled downhill.

This retrofit prototype is being developed at Progress Rail’s Redbank facility in south-east Queesnland. At the time, Aurizon said on-track trials would commence in the first half of 2025.

The federal government is currently developing a Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Roamap, which will help support “innovative solutions that deliver cleaner transport”, according to a joint statement from Ms King and Mr Bowen.

Industry and Science minister Ed Husic is still yet to release the National Battery Strategy, a year after development began. At the start of February, Mr Husic’s office said the strategy would be released in “coming weeks”.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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