EGEB: GM and Wabtec will develop electric freight locomotives

Wabtec's FLXDrive locomotive / Source: Wabtec Corp.

In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • GM and Wabtec will work together to develop and commercialize electric locomotives.
  • The US consumed a record amount of clean energy in 2020, reports the EIA.
  • UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — *ad.

Electric freight locomotives

Detroit-based GM and Pittsburgh-headquartered Wabtec yesterday signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding. GM will engineer and supply its Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell systems for Wabtec freight locomotives.

Wabtec developed its FLXdrive prototype (pictured above), and claims it’s the world’s first fully electric freight locomotive. The 430,000-pound FLXdrive uses 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells.

The FLXdrive was developed with a $22.6 million grant from the California Air Resource Board that was awarded to Wabtec, BNSF Railway, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. 

According to Wabtec on May 17:

[The company’s] next step is to build a second-generation locomotive with a battery capacity of more than 6 megawatt hours – a level of energy that can reduce a locomotive consist’s fuel consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30%, even while hauling several thousand tons of freight in a mile-long train. A fleet of second-generation FLXdrives will be commercialized and could enter supply chain routes in the next few years.

GM’s battery and fuel cell technologies will help Wabtec move to the next stage of developing even more effective electric freight locomotives.

Read more: Long Island Rail Road tests US’s first battery-powered trains

2020: a US clean energy record year

In 2020, US consumption of clean energy grew for the fifth year in a row, reaching a record high of 11.6 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), or 12% of total US energy consumption, reports the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Clean energy was the only source of US energy consumption that increased year-over-year. The consumption of fossil-fuel and nuclear energy declined. 

Here’s what the EIA had to say about wind and solar:

Wind energy, or electricity generated by wind-powered turbines, is almost exclusively consumed in the electric power sector. Wind energy accounted for about 26% of US renewable energy consumption in 2020. Wind surpassed hydroelectricity in 2019 to become the single most-consumed source of renewable energy on an annual basis. In 2020, US wind energy consumption grew 14% from 2019.

Solar energy accounted for about 11% of US renewable energy consumption in 2020. Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, including rooftop panels, and solar thermal power plants use sunlight to generate electricity. Some residential and commercial buildings use solar heating systems to heat water and the building. Overall, 2020 US solar consumption increased 22% from 2019.

Hydroelectric power accounted for about 22% of consumption in 2020, and US biofuel consumption fell 11% from 2019.

Photo: Wabtec

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Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.