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Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Traction Alternatives for Regional Railways


This paper presents a method for estimating Well-to-Wheel (WTW) energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributed to the advanced railway propulsion systems implemented in conjunction with different energy carriers and their production pathways. The analysis encompasses diesel-electric multiple unit vehicles converted to their hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid-electric, fuel cell hybrid-electric or battery-electric counterparts, combined with biodiesel or hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) as the first and second generation biofuels, liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen and/or electricity. The method is demonstrated using non-electrified regional railway network with heterogeneous vehicle fleet in the Netherlands as a case. Battery-electric system utilizing green electricity is identified as the only configuration leading to emission-free transport while offering the highest energy use reduction by 65–71% compared to the current diesel-powered hybrid-electric system. When using grey electricity based on the EU2030 production mix, these savings are reduced to about 27–39% in WTW energy use and around 68–73% in WTW GHG emissions. Significant reductions in overall energy use and emissions are obtained for the plug-in hybrid-electric concept when combining diesel, LNG, or waste cooking oil-based HVO with electricity. The remaining configurations that reduce energy use and GHG emissions are hybrid-electric systems running on LNG or HVO from waste cooking oil. The latter led to approximately 88% lower WTW emissions than the baseline for each vehicle type. When produced from natural gas or EU2030-mix-based electrolysis, hydrogen negatively affected both aspects, irrespective of the prime mover technology. However, when produced via green electricity, it offers a GHG reduction of approximately 90% for hybrid-electric and fuel cell hybrid-electric configurations, with a further reduction of up to 92–93% if combined with green electricity in plug-in hybrid-electric systems. The results indicate that HVO from waste cooking oil could be an effective and instantly implementable transition solution towards carbon–neutral regional trains, allowing for a smooth transition and development of supporting infrastructure required for more energy-efficient and environment-friendly technologies.

Related subjects: Applications & Pathways
Countries: Netherlands

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