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Parallel Systems gets $4M grant from DOE

Funding will support advanced testing of technology

A rendering a loaded railcar using Parallel Systems' technology. (Image: Parallel Systems)

Parallel Systems, a Culver City, California-based company that aims to produce autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles, has received a $4.44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy initiative (ARPA-E). 

Parallel, founded by former SpaceX engineers in 2020, will use the grant to fund a 29-month advanced testing program that will start in the second quarter of this year. The company says autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles could make short-haul moves, those less than 500 miles, more economically feasible for the railroads. 

“Our mission is to decarbonize freight by building a cleaner, automated rail future,” said Parallel co-founder and CEO Matt Soule in a Monday release. “The funds awarded from the Department of Energy will help us achieve our mission by supporting Parallel through our advanced testing phase. This critical step will enable us to move trucking freight to clean rail and accelerate the decarbonization of the entire freight industry.”

The advanced testing will occur in conjunction with the Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI), a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, in Pueblo, Colorado, and it will consist of analyzing system operations and energy performance across multiple study corridors. Others analyzing the test data include DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) at the University of Illinois. 

There are three issues that the advanced testing will look at: the railcars’ performance on the track, Parallel’s platooning method and platoon dynamics, and the energy efficiency and environmental benefits of the railcars.

“TTCI will collect data around how Parallel vehicles perform on the tracks in various conditions, including dynamic stability in twist and roll, pitch and bounce, and yaw and sway. The tests will benchmark the new vehicle dynamic performance against the requirements of traditional freight rail vehicles,” Parallel said. “NREL and RailTEC will collaborate to model the vehicles and system performance.

“The advanced testing program will also analyze Parallel’s contact-based platooning method and platoon dynamics. Specifically, the ARPA-E funding will advance Parallel’s innovative contact-based platooning by providing further research on bumper designs, control logic, and resultant reduction in energy. 

“NREL and RailTEC will evaluate the energy efficiency and environmental benefits of Parallel’s vehicles. Parallel’s technology will be one of the first to be evaluated by NREL’s Advanced Locomotive Technology and Rail Infrastructure Optimization System (ALTRIOS) software. ALTRIOS is an ARPA-E-funded tool designed to simulate and optimize energy conversion and storage dynamics, train dynamics, meet-pass planning (detailed train timetabling), and freight-demand-driven train scheduling. ALTRIOS will help determine the optimal amount of energy Parallel needs to run and maintain its system, enabling the company to meet charging demands. The software will also evaluate the merits of distributing the energy storage and investigate the improved network capacity and resilience achieved with self-propelled cars.”

Parallel was one of 68 research and development projects nationwide receiving a total $175 million from the ARPA-E program. The projects, spread out among 22 states, are “aimed at developing disruptive technologies to strengthen the nation’s advanced energy enterprise,” DOE said Monday. Other projects involved include electric vehicles, offshore wind, storage and nuclear recycling.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.