Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
October 1, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. — Might hybrid locomotives start competing for space on the nation’s railways the same way that hybrid cars are starting to pop up on roadways? Perhaps … at least if the Northern Illinois University College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has anything to say about it.
The college has received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help the American railroad industry find ways to squeeze more miles from a gallon of fuel and reduce the pollution produced by locomotives. Fuel cells are one of five key ideas being studied by teams of faculty at NIU’s DeKalb campus to achieve these goals.
Cutting fuel costs and reducing pollution are key concerns for the railroad industry. According to data collected by the Federal Surface Transportation Board, a diesel locomotive can move a ton of freight 436 miles using a single gallon of diesel fuel. As impressive as that statistic is, the industry is looking to push it higher. At current prices, even a 1 percent improvement in fuel efficiency could save the industry more than $100 million a year.
As for emissions, just this year the Environmental Protection Agency passed regulations requiring all new or refurbished diesel locomotives to meet pollution standards that slash the allowable amount of soot by 90 percent and require an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions.
Promod Vohra, dean of NIU’s engineering school, believes his faculty can help to bring about those improvements.
“Our faculty bring a unique set of skills to this task, one that is well suited to helping the industry address both of these needs,” Vohra said. “We are very excited about this opportunity and look forward to devising some ground-breaking solutions.”
The college has partnered with the Norfolk and Southern Railroad to facilitate their work on the project.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner for this project,” said Cliff Mirman, chair of CEET’s Department of Technology, who is overseeing the project. “They have given us access to equipment, to facilities, to laboratories – everything we have needed. They are very interested in lowering their operating costs, so we are very lucky to have them as collaborators.”
Faculty teams, assisted by students, will explore:
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