Fortescue is an Australian mining company and already one of the largest iron mining companies in the world. She also now wants to be the first to create an infinite energy electric vehicle: a train that, once powered by a booster charge, could continue indefinitely by producing its own energy.
This is theoretically not feasible: the laws of thermodynamics do not make a perpetuum mobile possible. A vehicle cannot produce enough energy while moving to compensate for the energy expended in moving.
However, by 2030, Fortescue’s 54 diesel locomotives, which haul 244 wagons full of ore, are to be replaced by Infinity trains with positive energy efficiency.
The trick to performing this impossible act is to use geography and the difference between back and forth weights to your advantage. Fortescue gathers his iron ore in the mountains of the Pilbara region and then brings it to Port Hedland, a coastal town below. This means that the trains go up a hill empty and then come down again when they are loaded with tons of goods.
The aim is therefore for the trains to generate enough energy when descending to be able to go back up again much more easily.
To do this, the Infinity Train uses the energy generated when braking. Modern electric locomotives no longer use just friction braking, but a technique called “regenerative braking” that reverses the direction of the electric motor’s torque, allowing electricity to be generated.
Normally this power is returned to the overhead wires located above the train for use elsewhere on the route. Batteries on Australian trains can store this electricity for reuse.
If the descent angle is sufficient, the weight of the trains should push them hard, allowing full-throttle regenerative braking to work. So it’s obviously not a true source of infinite energy, but a sophisticated gravity-driven generator. If all goes well, it produces enough energy for the train to be able to run back together empty without being recharged.
However, if the solution allowed, according to the American chain NBC, to dispense with 90 million liters of fuel every year, it would only be a drop in the bucket of the environmental damage caused by mining, which pollutes immensely.