HS2 uses F1 technology to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions

The company behind Britain’s new high-speed rail network is testing technology developed for Formula One (F1) motorsport to drastically reduce fuel consumption, carbon emissions and improve train quality air on one of its building sites in London.

As part of HS2 Ltd’s innovation programme, a tower crane at the railway’s Euston Approaches site, which would normally be powered by a 500 kVA diesel generator to lift loads of up to 24 tons, is instead driven by one less than half that size.

The site, where the London Tunnels surface of HS2 is operated by the project’s Tier 1 civil contractor, Skanska Costain STRABAG joint venture (SCS JV).

The power difference of the significantly smaller 200kVA generator is bridged by pairing it with an energy storage flywheel system developed and supplied by Silverstone-based engineering specialist PUNCH Flybrid.

Incorporated inside the unit supplied by PUNCH Flybrid (pictured), the flywheel, measuring just 35cm in diameter, is housed in a vacuum chamber to virtually eliminate resistance to energy loss that would result from contact with the air.

The technology matches the power of larger, thirstier generators by using excess generator power of 200 kVA during periods of low crane load to load the flywheel at very high speeds, equivalent to speed at 550 mph ground. 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.

The British firm’s expertise was first deployed in the motorsport of F1 and was then put to the test in endurance racing, including the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, before the two sports choose to focus exclusively on electric battery-based hybrid technology – now widely used in passenger cars. .

Capable of carrying out up to 10 million charge cycles compared to 3,000 for a typical electric vehicle battery, the know-how of PUNCH’s Flybrid flywheel proves, thanks to the innovation program of HS2, to be perfectly suited to the extreme and repetitive demands of the construction industry.

Commenting, HS2 Innovation Manager Rob Cairns said:

“Delivering the UK’s zero-carbon high-speed rail network by the 21stst century is a national company that draws on skills and technology both within and beyond the rail and construction sectors.

“Our trial work with PUNCH Flybrid is another great example of how investing in long-term national infrastructure programs creates opportunities to leverage economy-wide technology that could potentially unlock significant benefits for our industry.”

The efficiency of the hybrid system is such that in May 2022, the Euston trial more than halved the diesel consumption of a single tower crane to 6.3 liters per hour, saving 4.8 tons of carbon, equivalent to the average monthly CO2 emissions of 40 family cars.

Tobias Knichel, PUNCH Flybrid MD, explained how the science developed for F1 is applied to HS2:

“In motor racing, a team’s quest for higher performance drives the search for greater efficiency – essentially doing more with less. Race cars typically accelerate and brake around 500 times during a 90-minute F1 Grand Prix. Every time the car brakes in a high-power corner, our flywheel system spins, storing energy which is then released quickly to improve acceleration performance as the car exits a corner.

Designed by PUNCH Flybrid to also work with hydrogen, grid electricity and battery-powered generators, the innovation trial is an important step towards HS2’s ambition of diesel-free construction sites.

“We developed our flywheel technology to improve performance and efficiency at the top of the automotive industry, but its fundamentals mean there are opportunities to roll out its benefits in other sectors,” added Tobias. “That’s why we’re very excited to have the opportunity to use the technology for the construction industry as part of HS2’s innovation program.”

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

Kelvin Davies, Head of Innovation for Rail at Innovate UK, commented:

“Innovate UK is delighted to work with HS2 in delivering innovation for this prestigious program, and through this collaborative work, a new relationship between HS2 and PUNCH Flybrid has created the opportunity to explore the potential offered by a technology automobile proven to save fuel, reduce costs, reduce CO2 emissions and create opportunities for future economic growth in high value-added manufacturing and engineering sectors.

SCS JV Managing Director James Richardson said:

“SCS JV is committed to reducing our environmental footprint by identifying innovations such as this flywheel technology, which immediately halved the diesel consumption of one of our cranes operating at our approach site. of Euston. »

PUNCH Flybrid’s HS2 trial ends at the end of 2022.