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How battery trains can help deliver net zero and levelling up in the UK

Jim Brewin, Chief Director for UK & Ireland

Jim Brewin, Chief Director for UK & Ireland | Hitachi Rail

5 min read Partner content

As part of the inaugural Decarbonising Transport Week, Hitachi Rail's Jim Brewin explains how battery trains can help achieve the UK's net zero and levelling up objectives.

As we move closer to the UK’s 2050 net zero target, the need to decarbonise our country’s transport network is becoming ever more pressing. Reducing rail emissions and supporting the ambition for the UK to meet net zero has long been a priority for Hitachi Rail and is a goal shared by the entire rail industry. That goal is at the heart of innovation, research and development within the sector – and cutting-edge battery technology represents one of the greatest leaps forward yet and way to enable green economic growth.

To make battery technology for the UK railways a reality, Hitachi Rail has partnered with Turntide Technologies, a business based in Sunderland in the UK, that makes intelligent and sustainable motor systems.

In order to bring the technology at scale to the UK network, we have invested £15 million in developing a UK battery, with Hitachi Rail providing the rolling stock infrastructure whilst Turntide provides the battery technology capability, creating 20 new jobs in the process.

Throughout the trial, we have also had the crucial support of the system operator and other train operating companies, who recognise the importance of bringing battery technology to the UK rail network and delivering these benefits for the wider industry.

Decarbonising the Railways

Developing battery technology for railways will enable a speedier transition to net zero by phasing out diesel engines on trains operating across the UK, and at Hitachi Rail we are ambitious about scaling this technology across the UK rail network and beyond. Having developed battery technology in Italy and Japan, our UK trials in 2023 aim to provide a blueprint for policymakers and the rail industry to follow.

Battery solutions have already been proven by the electric car industry, so the real challenge has been in repurposing this technology designed to power a two-tonne vehicle for a sixty-tonne train. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just making the battery bigger. Hitachi Rail’s engineers, in collaboration with Turntide, have been working for more than a year on creating the necessary algorithms and software to achieve this upscaling.

The early results are really positive, with predictive control and precise temperature management helping us to achieve a working battery for trains with a minimum lifespan of eight years. The next stage is to continue our industry collaboration so we can trial this UK battery technology on the railways in 2023.

Improving Air Quality and Energy Efficiency, and delivering Economic Benefits

Another immediate benefit of battery technology is its ability to improve air quality in enclosed and non-electrified train stations. This is important given the UK Government’s Office for Environmental Protection progress report concluded that legally binding commitments for reduced emissions by 2030 are at risk of being missed. The environmental value of hitting these targets makes technological advancements such as battery trains all the more important. As an imminently available solution, the private sector should be willing to engage with this innovation and provide financial backing to make it a reality.

Our battery trial has the further potential to revolutionise the UK rail industry by reducing energy demand. Not only does using a battery deliver energy efficiency, it also re-captures energy that might have gone to waste. Hitachi Rail technology uses kinetic energy from trains braking to recharge the battery. At a time of reduced supply, the ability to reduce energy demand, ease pressure on the UK’s national grid, and save money for operators, is exactly the sort of benefits the industry needs.

What is particularly exciting about battery technology is its potential to make electrification quicker, cheaper and simpler to deliver. Battery technology enables rail electrification to be delivered in a targeted manner, using battery power to avoid electrifying the most difficult and costly areas, such as tunnels and bridges.  They can deliver real economic benefit to the wider UK by reducing the scale or cost of electrification infrastructure needed across Great Britain’s railways. This will mean very significant savings for the public purse. This ability to improve the business case for electrification is something gives battery technology a future that is worthy of investment. 

Developing a Battery in the North East

Hitachi Rail is proud to base its UK manufacturing in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, where our existing operations at the factory already bring significant economic benefits to the region, alongside our partner Turntide Technologies.

Rolling out battery trains across the rail network and taking the technology to the next level would create a potential £500m supply chain opportunity and create new supply chain jobs. It can support the North East’s journey to becoming a centre of excellence for battery technology in Europe.

Our work on battery technology has provided opportunities for Hitachi Rail and Turntide engineers to develop new capabilities and comes as part of a continuous upskilling programme at the Newton Aycliffe facility. The factory delivers a gross value add of over £400m. This battery technology programme can develop new skills and supply chain opportunities to maintain our commitment to levelling up the North East.

Hitachi’s Ambition

The development of battery technology, through our partnership with Turntide, realises a shared ambition of: decarbonising transport, reducing costs in UK railways, improving energy efficiency, improving air quality, and unlocking a green growth opportunity in the North East. By working together with policymakers, industry, and the private sector, we will realise the full potential battery technology has to offer.

For more information on battery powered trains, visit our website.

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