Updated with comments from GE: This month General Electric (s GE) is powering through proposals for cleaner technologies for heavy-haul locomotives like, well, a freight train. This morning the company is unveiling a new locomotive model that it says will produce fewer emissions and offer better fuel efficiency than existing models.
Today’s launch comes less than a week after the company announced plans to seek stimulus funds for a new factory to make sodium-based batteries for locomotives (and eventually other applications), and will invest at least $100 million of its own capital into the project. The deadline for that grant request is tomorrow, spurring several battery companies (including GE, Sakti3 and Planar Energy Devices) to rally big shows of support from state governments and potential customers over the last week.
Like other models in what GE calls its Evolution Series of locomotives, the new model uses an AC motor, and the company says this will help boost fuel efficiency by 17 percent and cut emissions by as much as 70 percent compared with older models that have DC motors (AC motors have fewer moving parts than DC motors). But it’s unclear how the efficiency will compare with other modern models now on the market or slated to get there soon. GE has had a hybrid locomotive (lower picture) in the pipeline for some time and slated it for commercialization in 2010. With the hybrid model — which is supposed to get the first run of the batteries that GE wants to build with help from the feds — GE has promised to halve emissions and cut fuel consumption by up to 15 percent compared with “most freight locomotives in use today.” We’ll update this post when we have more details from a press conference this morning.
Update: GE continued its quest for a federal boost this morning, but this time it wasn’t about stimulus dollars. Instead, the company wants to see a “cash for clunkers” program for locomotives, like the one for cars that’s now working it’s way through Congress. The basic idea of this kind of legislation is to provide rebates or other incentives for people to trade in older gas guzzlers for new, more fuel efficient models. Speaking at a GE plant in Pennsylvania this morning about the new locomotive technology — which GE says can be “dropped in” to older, less efficient trains still in use — GE Transportation President and CE Lorenzo Simonelli called for a partnership between GE, Amtrak and the federal government “to make a next generation locomotive made in the USA.” He also said, “the simulus funding seems to be moving within reach.” Given the increasingly heated debate over the automotive cash for clunkers proposal (the WSJ’s Environmental Capital blog called it “the Rodney Dangerfield of new laws” this morning), we wouldn’t count on a locomotive version of the law coming within grasp anytime soon.