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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X016498/1
Title: Discovering a Sustainable Power Solution for Next Generation 5G Railway Communication
Principal Investigator: Zhu, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
COMSA Corporation Network Rail Railway Industry Association
Department: Engineering
Organisation: University of Exeter
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 April 2023 Ends: 31 March 2025 Value (£): 202,435
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy Storage Transport Ops & Management
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
21 Jun 2022 New Horizons 2021 Full Proposal Panel Announced
23 Jun 2022 New Horizons Civil Engineering Panel June 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years and are set to double again in the next 25 years. Rail industry can't rely on more track to cater for this growth. In order to unlock the challenge and increase rail capability, the railway industry and governments worldwide are preparing 5G communication infrastructure for the next generation and beyond, aiming to provide ultra-high performance connection with millisecond latency, gigabit per second transmission rate, and dense coverage to enable more connected devices, operations, passengers and interventions for safety, controllability, reliability and availability. 5G requires massive small cell base stations spread along large geographical railway lines, which complement high tower base station capability, bringing signals closer to the trains and passengers and enabling ultra-high-speed coverage and dense passenger connections. However, 5G rollout has lagged in installing small cell base stations within infrastructure due to the required high density of base stations (one base station is needed approximately every tens of meters) and the associated power supply.

Running cables alongside the railway lines to wayside power sources or powering the base stations using batteries are not viable options for such scenarios. Installations of new equipment such as transformers to power the low voltage small cell base stations from the existing high voltage 25/50 kV rail electrification systems are not economically justifiable. Greater connectivity and coverage along such large geographical railway lines is critical for 5G rollout, but must have a solution that requires no power cables, no batteries and is easy to install. One powerful approach to solving such an issue is discovering a sustainable power solution using a novel energy harvesting (EH) technology. The engineering research idea proposed here is to discover a sustainable, self-powered solution by harvesting high electromagnetic field flux energy generated by currents of electrified railway systems around masts to power small cell base stations for the next generation of 5G railway communication.

The speculative idea and hypothesis proposed here are to enable every electrified railway mast along the widely distributed railway lines to become a sustainable power source, harvesting high electromagnetic flux energy when the trains operate around and pass by, converting it into sufficient usable electrical power and powering small cell base stations.

This research is the first time exploration of such an energy source around the railway masts for EH, enabling the supply of sufficient usable power to power small cell base stations. It is expected that once successful, the proposed technology will radically revolutionise how the next generation of 5G railway communication will be powered in an energy autonomous and sustainable way.

The project is to test the proposed speculative idea and the hypothesis through 4 work packages. WP1 is to thoroughly understand electrical currents in electrified railway systems and perform initial designs of energy harvesters. WPs 2 & 3 focus on understanding electromagnetic flux EH capability via modelling, design, implementation and testing of energy harvesters. WP4 is a demonstration study.

The project industrial partners are: Network Rail's Telecoms (UK), Railway Industry Association (UK) and COMSA Corporation (Spain), all from Railway industry.
Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.ex.ac.uk