St Louis-based Intramotev is looking to rekindle the mining and rail relationship that made US operations viable in some of the country’s most remote places by using a modular battery-electric propulsion system and an autonomous-ready operating platform that can provide shipment certainty, safety and sustainability.
Founded by Tim Luchin, Alex Peiffer and Corey Vasel, Intramotev has come to the table in the last four years with a portfolio focused on autonomous, zero-emission rail solutions.
The company has brought together a team from the rail, aerospace and automotive sectors to revolutionise and revamp the rail sector, looking to provide the “speed and flexibility of trucks with all the advantages of rail”, Luchini, also CEO, told IM.
“Through our solutions, we can offer the rail industry 20% to 100% reductions in their emissions footprint, while lowering their all-in costs by 30-80%,” he says.
Such metrics, which could encourage mine site expansions as well as new greenfield operations to start up, will be achieved by deploying one of the two solutions Intramotev has in its portfolio:
- TugVolt, a proprietary kit that can retrofit/upfit existing rail cars to become battery-electric; and
- ReVolt, capturing waste energy in traditional trains via regenerative braking, and automated safety systems including gates and hatches.
TugVolt can decouple to independently service first- and last-mile legs, providing the type of flexibility that, Luchini says, will allow the system to more readily compete with trucking. ReVolt, meanwhile, stays in the consist to capture energy via regenerative braking and reduce the overall diesel consumption of locomotives.
Both solutions leverage battery-electric technology – with Luchini saying the rule of thumb would see a 100 kW battery on board a rail car able to transport a 100 t payload for 100 miles (160 km).
“This compares very favourably with the massive batteries companies are having to put into rail locomotives to provide hybrid consists,” he said. “We’re offering something much more scalable to allow operators transporting large volumes of materials via rail an opportunity to electrify their fleet and reduce their costs.”
The first mining company to publicly commit to such a solution is Iron Senergy, which is set to receive three ReVolt rail cars for its 17 mile private rail line that transports coal produced by its Cumberland longwall coal mine, in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, to its Alicia Harbor Facility on the Monongahela River, in western Pennsylvania.
This will be the world’s first deployment of self-propelled battery-electric rail cars in a traditional freight train when it starts up by the end of the year, according to Intramotev, using regenerative braking and battery technology to reduce diesel consumption from locomotives, resulting in lower costs for rail operators and reducing emissions impact from rail operations.
This might be the first, but there are plenty more in the works, according to Luchini.
“We have a pipeline of 168 rail cars today which are at different levels of commitment,” he said, adding that, of this total, there was a roughly even split between enquiries for TugVolt and ReVolt.
“We’re expecting payback periods on projects to be as little as six months, so there is a real economic case to employ these solutions, as well as the ability to reduce your emissions,” he said.
The US represents a massive market for the company to aim for – close to a million freight rail cars sit idle in switching yards, awaiting locomotives to bring them to their destination, according to the company – but Luchini also sees opportunities in Canada and South America where North American rail standards are already present.
“Then there is a region like Australia to consider, which obviously has a rich history of mining with remote operations in need of affordable and low-emission transport infrastructure,” he added.
The ability to add spur and extensions onto existing lines and run smaller units of battery-electric rail cars – like the company thinks can be achieved in the likes of Arizona, Nevada and Minnesota – could provide serious competition to the trucking sector there.
Luchini concluded: “If you are a mine site today, you have an obvious tension when it comes to material movement.
“Conveyors are great material movers but can cause huge issues when they fail; trucks are fast and flexible but come with excess emissions by today’s standards; rail is low cost, fast and environmentally responsible but in its current form is not very flexible.
“We’re looking to change this dynamic, going back to the rail sector’s heritage as a mine operation facilitator.”