AURIZON has secured a $9.4 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to develop the next generation of Australian freight trains, aiming to replace diesel fuel with renewable energy sources on its locomotive fleet.

The ARENA grant represents half of the required funding for the Battery Powered Tender for Heavy Haul Fleet Decarbonisation project, with the balance to be funded by Aurizon. 

The aim is to develop, test and trial a battery electric tender (BET) to be used in conjunction with a modified locomotive. The tender – essentially a big battery-pack on wheels – will couple with the modified locomotive to operate as a hybrid unit using both diesel and battery-electric power sources. The tender’s battery will also harness re-generative energy captured as the train travels down grades and brakes as part of normal operation.

The battery-electric tender and modified locomotive project will be built by Aurizon and technology project partner, Alta Battery Technology (Alta) at a facility in Australia, with design and technology inputs from Alta.

Aurizon say the BET is the second key initiative in Aurizon’s three-pronged strategy to deliver zero-emissions capable freight locomotives for its national portfolio of customers:

  • In May 2023, Aurizon started work on the first battery-electric locomotive (BEL) to be constructed in Australia. The prototype is expected to commence on-track trials in late 2025. This technology is expected to deliver freight on hauls of up to 400 kilometres.
  • The battery-electric tender, in the future, when coupled with the battery-electric locomotive, aims to extend the future range for freight hauls up to 850 kilometres. Trials are expected to commence in early 2026.
  • In 2021 Aurizon and Anglo American agreed to work together on a feasibility study to assess the introduction of hydrogen-powered trains for bulk freight. This work concluded that a Hydrogen Electric Tender was the preferred configuration to pursue given the lack of space on the locomotive to store the required amount of hydrogen fuel.  Aurizon continue to work with First Mode to explore this concept that when coupled to a battery-electric locomotive, aims to cater for freight hauls greater than 850 kilometres.

Aurizon MD & CEO Andrew Harding said the company aims to use battery and hydrogen power sources, or a combination of both, to deliver decarbonised freight solutions for customers across the national footprint, no matter how heavy or how far the freight needs to move.

“By delivering a locomotive fleet that can tap into renewable energy sources, Aurizon and the rail industry can do the heavy-lifting in decarbonising transport supply chains in Australia,” Mr Harding said. “We are also working to increase the proportion of freight transported by rail rather than road, which would contribute to reducing overall transport sector emissions.”