Apr 292016

That’s the claim, anyway:

The train goes up, the train goes down: a simple new way to store energy

It’s basically a giant battery. Electric locomotives haul massive concrete slabs up a shallow hill, using grid power when there is excess capacity. When there is greater need for electricity, the locomotives coast downhill, using regenerative braking like an electric car. Should be simple and rugged… rails, rail cars, locomotives and concrete slabs are well understood and not exactly delicate.

This would of course be most useful when applied to fickle weather-power systems like wind and solar.

 Posted by at 9:18 pm
  • publiusr

    Sir Topham Hatt found he could save even more money by just having hobos tow the slugs up the hill–thus Boxcar Willie’s heart attack….said to have been brought on by fear of those smiling, whispering locomotive faces as by overwork.

    The UTU is suing,

    Ferroequinology expert Mandy Patinkin was unavailable to comment. FRN

  • allen

    so the cars have batteries..once charged, they go up hill. coming down they use regenerative braking to partially recharge the batteries, then transfer that power to the grid once parked.

    I wonder if eliminating the batteries altogether and using a pantograph like trolley cars or having a 3rd rail to transmit the power would work better. there would be a more constant availability to the grid, as well as “surge” capacity as needed, and you wouldn’t have to worry about the costs and maintenance of replacing the batteries.

    I could see this in use on even steeper slopes using the technology from cog railways.


    a little more expensive to implement, but the steeper grade would have a higher energy return.

    • Scottlowther

      > so the cars have batteries

      No batteries. At times when there is excess capacity, the grid powers the cars directly; when the cars descend, they power the grid directly. If the system used batteries… it’s already storing the energy, so the cars would be superfluous. The claim is that the rail car system is more efficient than batteries.

      • allen

        so, I’m guessing that “handrail” is where the power is transmitted? ok, I understand it now.

        I wonder if putting the cars in a tube, winching them to the top of the incline, then releasing them as needed…compressing the air in the tube to run a turbine..would work? done right, you could get some pretty high pressure over a long span of time. you could also control the decent with an air valve on the end of the tunnel. decompress the seal to the tunnel walls and it would be just as easy to bring to the top of the hill as this design. the need for a very sturdy pipe of large diameter might financially kill this design though.

        (I’ve been tinkering with some air guns this weekend, and the idea struck me)

        • Scottlowther

          A more important problem is friction. In order for your idea to work, the car would need to create a very, very good seal, and that’s all kinds of friction-y. In contrast, steel wheels on steel rails has very little rolling resistance.

          • allen

            another part I don’t get.. they show the slabs of concrete, at rest on the hill. then they spin them to attach them to the rolling stock. that’s wasted energy…the rolling stock length doesn’t change, so it’s not for the purposes of shortening the tracks. the pivot point would be a mechanical item that could fail, sending a sideways slab of concrete down the hill wiping out everything near the tracks. if it’s to make them more aerodynamically stable (so high winds don’t knock them over..hey, it could happen) they could easily be shaped better instead of spinning them.

            so, why spin the concrete slabs at all?

          • Scottlowther

            It’s not explained, but the video makes it clear: the trains might be only 4 or 5 cars long, but they’re stacking up potentially dozens of blocks. A train runs downhill empty, picks up four blocks, takes ’em uphill (storing up energy), stacks the blocks space-efficiently, runs back downhill empty, rinse and repeat. By stacking the blocks sideways, you save a lot of *space.* Seems it also makes them more convenient to store… if you stack them lengthwise, you have to have some system that can elevate them and perpetually hold them in place. If you stack them sideways, your system needs to be able to rotate and lift, but then the blocks will simply rest on the raised rim of the concrete “canyon.”

          • allen

            so they’re anticipating using this for long-term energy storage. I figured it would be used temporarily, a few hours, overnight or at most a few days.I could see how this would beat batteries long-term…batteries fail, gravity doesn’t.

          • publiusr

            In so doing–they are almost building the ramp we saw for the space ark from “When Worlds Collide”

            Space entrepreneur: “We want to build a ramp for space launch”
            Venture Capitalist: “BWA-HA HA–get out!!”

            F’ing railway Nut: We want to build energy storage for trains
            CSX: “Sure–how much money do you want?”

            Hmm…. Hey Lynx–why not diversify into rail? Just don’t tell the venture vultures what you’re really up to.

  • robunos20

    It’s a similar idea to, and principle as, this :-


    • Scottlowther

      With the advantage of not having a working mass that evaporates or causes the system to rust or clog. And I think pumps are less efficient than this. But, yes, the principle is the same.

  • Peter Hanely

    86% storage efficiency is plausible, motors and generators exist with the efficiency to net that. Cost relative to capacity is the big question.

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