Greenrail, Turning Railways Into Clean Energy Producers

This solution uses new technology to make sleepers more efficient, reduce waste and generate clean energy.

While innovation, design and technology have transformed most traditional industries, some things have remained unchanged for centuries. In the railway industry, concrete sleepers have remained virtually unchanged since they were first introduced in the early 20th century. Until now?

In 2005, Giovanni De Lisi, an Italian railway installation and maintenance worker, had an idea that could change the standard across the industry, introduce the circular economy, and transition the industry to carbon neutrality.

Greenrail, a start-up company based in Milan, produces concrete sleepers and a mix of recycled plastic and rubber from ELT (End of Life Tires). Through its circular economy process, each kilometer of railway line made by Greenrail allows the recycling of 35 tons of used plastic and tires.

The innovative sleepers reduce maintenance costs by up to 50% as “ the recycled plastic and rubber cover helps reduce wear on the track ballast, by absorbing vibrations, by slowing the lateral movement of the rails and by reinforcing carrying capacity by 40%, ”explained Greenrail founder and CEO De Lisi in an interview with EJinsight.

Although these characteristics would be enough to make them very interesting, another idea from De Lisi makes them a true revolution: the Italian founder decided to turn this passive piece into an energy-producing infrastructure.

Greenrail Solar integrates solar panels that convert the railway infrastructure into a photovoltaic power station, uses a piezoelectric system to generate electricity during the passage of a train. A third version, Greenrail Linkbox sends data to perform real-time diagnostics, and improve safety and predictive maintenance of railways.

Each kilometer of Greenrail’s solar sleepers can produce 35 MWh per kilometer, enough energy to supply the annual electricity needs of 10 homes. Considering that in Europe alone there are approximately 380 million concrete sleepers, the potential could be enormous.

Although the company has started to expand into high-potential markets such as the United States, India, Australia, Brazil, Russia, Uganda and Kazakhstan, it inaugurated its first pilot section of smart railway sleepers on the Reggio Emilia – Sassuolo line in September 2018, in Italy.

Greenrail aims at technologically advanced innovation, linked to sustainability and the results obtained in this experimental section show that the development and modernization of the railway infrastructure in a sustainable and innovative way is possible and will be the priority for the development of the country. Sustainable mobility cannot ignore the technologically renewed railway infrastructure.

Giovanni De Lisi.

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