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GM's Ultium battery and fuel-cell tech to power trains

The automaker partnered with Wabtec to help build cleaner, more efficient battery-powered locomotives.

GM Wabtec Electric Locomotive - train
GM's Ultium battery technology, coming to a locomotive near you.

In the coming years, GM's advanced Ultium battery technology will power a sprawling range of electric vehicles, from high-end trucks and luxury SUVs to family-friendly crossovers, a flagship-caliber luxury sedan and even locomotives. Wait, what?

Yes, you read that correctly. Ultium batteries will be used in trains. On Tuesday, a partnership between GM and the Wabtec Corporation, a prominent player in the rail sector, was announced. The two firms signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the aim of developing and commercializing Ultium technology as well as the automaker's Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cells for use in locomotives.

If Ultium batteries can move a massive Hummer SUV, they can pull an entire train.

Nate Reed/Roadshow

The automotive industry isn't the only one that needs to be cleaned up. Significant gains can be made by decarbonizing trains, something Wabtec's FLXdrive locomotive, the world's first 100% battery-powered train, has already proven. Back in May, this locomotive's efficiency gains were announced and the machine demonstrated an 11% average reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the company, this is equal to saving more than 6,200 gallons of diesel fuel and eliminating the production of around 69 tons of CO2. These figures were announced after a three-month test program with BNSF Railway in California's San Joaquin Valley, where FLXdrive was used in revenue service on more than 13,300 miles of hilly terrain. The locomotive had 2.4 megawatt hours of on-board energy storage capacity, but if it had 6-mWh of juice, Wabtec estimates the train could reduce emissions and fuel consumption by up to 30%.

The FLXdrive locomotive clocks in at some 430,000 pounds and contains 18,000 lithium-ion cells, 18,000. This provides a range of around 350 miles and a top speed of about 75 mph. And you thought the Tesla Model S had a lot of battery capacity. This train engine charges at the rail yard and, just like, say, a Toyota Prius, uses regenerative braking to recuperate energy while underway. With GM's advanced technologies and expertise, Wabtec is aiming to do even better than this. Next, the company plans to build a locomotive with more than 6-mWh of onboard storage capacity to push the FLXdrive's environmental gains further.

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