Aurizon turns to battery technology to power rail fleet


In a world-first proof of concept, Australia’s largest rail-based freight operator Aurizon will develop, test and trial a 1.8 MWh battery-electric tender (BET) to help power a modified diesel-fuelled locomotive for heavy haul, bulk and containerised freight operations.

The electric tender 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.

Aurizon Managing Director Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harding said the project, supported with $9.4 million (USD 6.2 million) in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, represents an opportunity for a step-change reduction in diesel usage in rail operations.

“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,” he 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.”

Aurizon will build the tender and modified locomotive at its facility at Townsville, in north Queensland. Project partner Alta Battery Technology will be responsible for designing and constructing the tender. Once operational, the tender will be trialled across one of Aurizon’s customer haulage routes with those trials expected to commence in early 2026.

Alta Managing Director Roy Zou said the tender will utilise the company’s DC-to-DC converter which connects diesel assets to electric power sources, specifically for high voltage systems.

“The use of this technology will alleviate the need to replace existing assets with completely electric assets, saving businesses money, and expediting their path to carbon-neutral/net zero,” he said.

The $18.8 million battery-electric tender project is part of Aurizon’s broader strategy to deliver zero-emissions capable freight locomotives.

In May 2023, the company started work on the first battery-electric locomotive to be constructed in Australia. The prototype is expected to commence on-track trials in late 2025. It is also working with mining giant  Anglo American to assess the introduction of hydrogen-powered trains for bulk freight.

“We are committed to making a transition towards net zero operational emissions based on a locomotive fleet that uses zero emissions technologies, is flexible and suited to the challenging Australian conditions in which we operate,” Harding said.

Rail transport emissions from Australia’s heavy haul freight industry accounts for more than 4 Mt of carbon emissions, or 0.8% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

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