Hoping to one day enable train commuters to see significantly reduced fares – which are driven partially by rising energy costs – a team of researchers from Penn State is hoping to develop a computer algorithm that will help automated public transit systems to identify efficiencies and weed out wasteful power consumption. While still in the development and testing phase, this technology could change the way that metropolitan transportation authorities approach these complex issues.
According to a press release from the university, the group is focusing on the impact of industrial-sized batteries during day-to-day usage in large transit networks. They identified a key phenomenon, known as sulfation, which involves the decay of battery life caused by repeated depletion and recharging of the power source. This issue leads to routine replacements, which can cost railroad companies significant amounts of money as they maintain their locomotive fleets.
To combat the problem, the Penn State team began investigating methods for reducing the number of times that the batteries had to be rejuvenated. Additionally, the researchers started developing ways for transit supervisors to monitor batteries before sulfation rendered them unusable.
"We wanted to reverse the sulfation to rejuvenate the battery and bring it back to life," Christopher Rahn, a professor of mechanical engineering who is involved in the study, was quoted as saying. "We desulfated it, and we increased its capacity. We didn’t increase it all the way to brand new. We weren't able to do that, but we did get a big boost."
The study, which is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is still ongoing. However, it highlights the fact that scientists are actively seeking to bridge existing transportation methods with new clean technology innovations.