DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Co will supply electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cell systems for rail supplier Wabtec Corp’s locomotives, in a move extending the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s reach outside the automotive sector.
Wabtec, based in Pittsburgh, is developing locomotives powered by electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells in response to rail industry demand to eliminate carbon emissions. It has a test electric locomotive model and intends to build a second generation version, with deliveries starting in 2023.
“The rail industry is on the cusp of a sustainable transformation with the introduction of batteries and hydrogen to power locomotive fleets,” Wabtec Chief Executive Rafael Santana said in a statement.
Under the nonbinding memorandum of understanding, GM will supply Ultium electric batteries and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell power cubes. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“Wabtec’s decision to deploy GM’s Ultium battery and Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell systems further validates our advanced technology,” GM President Mark Reuss said.
Ultium is a key part of GM’s strategy to roll out efficient and cost effective electric vehicles, and closing a deal with Wabtec would help spread development costs over a larger volume of batteries. GM is developing a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered commercial truck with truck maker Navistar.
GM’s Ultium batteries will be built by the company’s joint venture with South Korea battery maker LG Energy Solution, which is building plants in Ohio and Tennessee. The hydrogen fuel-cell systems will be assembled by GM’s joint venture with Honda in Brownstown, Michigan.
Last month, Wabtec announced that its FLXdrive all-electric locomotive, during a test program with BNSF Railway in California, delivered more than an 11% average reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for the entire train – the equivalent of over 6,200 gallons of diesel fuel saved and about 69 tons of CO2 emissions reduced. It is also developing hydrogen fuel-cell-powered locomotives.
The 430,000-pound electric locomotive, with a battery capacity of 2.4 megawatt hours (MWh), uses 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells, Wabtec’s chief technology officer, Eric Gebhardt, said in a recent interview. It generates its energy largely through regenerative braking.
The company intends to build a second-generation electric locomotive with a battery capacity of more than 6 MWh, a level it says can reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30%. Gebhardt compared that capacity to 100 Tesla vehicles.
Wabtec expects to begin shipments of the second-generation electric locomotive in mid-2023, he said. The company has not disclosed volume targets.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Adler)