Sleepers made from secondary waste materials, which can integrate sustainable power systems, have the potential to turn railways all over the world into producers of clean energy.
An Italian startup backed by EU funding hopes to revolutionise the railway industry by turning its tracks into clean energy powerhouses.
Railway sleepers usually consist of energy-intensive concrete but Greenrail’s version has an inner concrete core and an outer shell made from a combination of recycled plastic and rubber, collected from end-of-life tyres. This means that for every kilometre of railway, up to 35t of these waste materials can be reused.
These sustainable sleepers are also able to integrate small solar panels, which would make the railway itself an active accumulator of solar energy (the Greenrail Solar programme) or a kinetic energy system that would generate electricity from the pressure of trains passing over the tracks (Greenrail Piezo). Meanwhile, Greenrail Linkbox can integrate devices designed to transmit safety and diagnostic data.
This has all been developed despite the fact that when Giovanni De Lisi founded Greenrail in 2012, he was informed by chemistry experts that his dream to create sleepers that slotted neatly into the circular economy was ‘simply impossible’.
Fast forward five years and according to the company’s sustainable development manager Dawid Janik, based on the volume of interest in Greenrail’s sleepers from all corners of the world, they now have the potential to become the industry standard.