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Fig. 1: Free of snow and ice thanks to geothermal heat alone!
© PINTSCH ABEN geotherm GmbH
Free of ice by self-regulating geothermal sytem
Projektinfo 12/2010

Fig. 1b: Free of snow and ice thanks to geothermal heat alone!
© PINTSCH ABEN geotherm GmbH
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Geothermal heating for railway points

„Everyone is talking about the weather... except us!” One competitive advantage for rail transport over road transport is that the former is less dependent on weather conditions. However, running trains and trams in winter still involves a certain amount of effort. Alongside platforms at stations and level-crossings, the numerous sets of points on the rail network also need to be kept free of snow and ice to ensure that services can run safely and smoothly. This is where points heaters, which prevent the moving parts of points from freezing up, come into play.

Around 64,000 sets of points are heated by Deutsche Bahn AG alone – generally using electrical resistance heaters or gas heaters. These systems involve low investment costs and work reliably even under extreme weather conditions. However, the energy consumption involved is considerable. In Germany, these heaters consume around 230 GWh of electrical energy per annum and have an overall installed power of approximately 900 MW.

Geothermal points heaters, which have been in use for a number of years now as an alternative, achieve significant energy savings of over 40%. They harness heat from the ground or from ground water. An electrically powered heat pump can raise the temperature level up to as much as 65 °C, depending on requirements.

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A research project supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is aimed at making further progress in terms of energy efficiency. Scientists at PINTSCH ABEN geotherm GmbH and the Bavarian Center for Applied Energy Research (ZAE Bayern) are cooperating on the development of a heating system to keep railway points free of snow and ice. This system will require no other energy source apart from the ground, which acts as a heat reservoir. The core of this system is a so-called CO2 heat pipe that is effective in transporting low-temperature heat from the ground to the points, even at low temperature differences. As an initial step, experimental investigations using a test borehole heat exchanger established the foundations for the actual design of a geothermal points heater. Based on these results, the researchers then demonstrated how this would work in practice using a test set of points on the company site. The first prototype is to go into service at the end of 2010 in Hamburg and will show how the system works in real, everyday operation.

Projektinfo 12/2010:
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Project partner
ZAE Bayern - Würzburg