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HS2: How is Motorsport Supporting a Zero Carbon Railway?

3 min

Image Credit: Spencer Davis, Unsplash
HS2 is trialling technology developed for sport Formula 1 to dramatically cut fuel consumption, carbon emissions and improve air quality at one of its London construction sites. Quadrant Transport looks at how motorsport is supporting a zero carbon rail network.

As part of HS2 Ltd’s Innovation Programme, a tower crane on the railway’s Euston approaches site, that would normally be powered by a 500kVA diesel generator to lift loads of up to 24 tonnes, is instead being driven by one less than half that size.

The 200kVA generator’s power difference is bridged by pairing it with an energy storing flywheel system developed and supplied by Silverstone-based engineering specialist PUNCH Flybrid.

Measuring just 35cm in diameter, incorporated inside the PUNCH Flybrid-supplied unit, the flywheel, is housed in a vacuum chamber to all but eliminate energy-sapping resistance that would result from contact with the air.

Matching the power of larger generators, the technology uses the 200kVA generator’s surplus power during the crane’s low load periods to charge the spinning flywheel to high speeds, equivalent to a ground speed of 550mph. The kinetic energy stored by the flywheel can then be quickly released to support the generator when the crane demands maximum power to lift heavy loads.

Lessons Learned From Motorsport Can Be Applied To Other Industries

Originally deployed in Formula 1, the technology has been put through its paces in endurance racing, including the famous Le Mans 24 Hour, before both sports opted to focus exclusively on electric battery-based hybrid technology – now widely used in passenger cars.

Innovations made in motorsport have had a big impact on the transport industry. For example, the automotive industry has always relied upon technological advancements in motorsport as a testbed and has been able to apply lessons from the track to the road.

Over the last few years, the Formula E Championship, for example, has become the first sport with a net zero carbon footprint. It provides a platform for developing EV technology and sustainable mobility.

It shows that once innovations have been proved successful in motorsport, they can be replicated by other industries to contribute to becoming more sustainable.

Tobias Knichel, PUNCH Flybrid MD, explained how the science, developed for Formula 1 is being applied to HS2: “In motor racing, a teams’ quest for higher performance spurs the search for greater efficiency – essentially doing more with less. Racing cars typically accelerate and brake around 500 times during a 90-minute F1 Grand Prix.”

Each time the car brakes into a corner at high power our flywheel system spins up, storing energy which is then released quickly to boost acceleration performance as the car leaves a bend.

The Technology Will Contribute To HS2 Becoming Zero Carbon

Designed by PUNCH Flybrid to also work with hydrogen, mains electricity and battery-powered generators, the technology is a significant step towards HS2’s ambition of diesel-free construction sites.

Tobias added: “We developed our flywheel technology to improve performance and efficiency at the very pinnacle of the automotive industry, but its fundamentals mean there are opportunities to deploy its benefits in other sectors,”

That’s why we’re very pleased to have an opportunity to utilise the technology for the construction industry under HS2’s Innovation programme.

Linked with HS2 after applying to Innovate UK’s Innovate at HS2 2020 competition, the partnership with PUNCH Flybrid demonstrates how linking Britain’s largest infrastructure project with industries beyond the construction and rail sectors has the potential to create long-term benefits and opportunities throughout the wider economy.

To hear more about the impact motorsport has had on other industries, the impact hydrogen will have on motorsport and how it is highlighting world issues, listen to Hydrogen Industry Leaders’ podcast with Ali Russell, Chief Marketing Officer at Extreme E here.