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Greenrail, eco-friendly Sicilian start-up, makes plastic sleepers to produce renewable energy

by Alberto Magnani

Greenrail is a sleeper made of plastic and used tires: it reduces vibration, noise and maintenance costs. Patented by a start-up company from Palermo of the same name, the project was awarded a € 100,000 prize at the latest edition of Edison Start, a contest for new entrepreneurs organized by the energy giant.

The aim is to grow in a market producing 70 million sleepers a year worldwide, replace the concrete that dominates 90% of the production and turn rail tracks into a best practice in renewable energy. The system installed under the tracks generates clean, renewable electric energy at a rate of up to 120 kwh per hour.

Greenrail founder, Giovanni Maria De Lisi, started working in his family’s rail maintenance business when he was just over 18. The first spark of the new project was lit by a doubt, more practical than commercial: why are there no eco-friendly sleepers? And if they do exist, why are they niche products instead, of being used on railways all across Europe?

“Later, I found out that recycled plastic sleepers had started being produced. This innovation struck me, and I found out that these sleepers could not replace the concrete ones because their weight and quality were not suitable for railway lines, with a speed over 80 miles per hour,” said De Lisi. Which means nearly 200 kilometers per hour less than the minimum European standard for high speed.

Thus, the idea of a sustainable sleeper that could undermine the supremacy of concrete was born. A market producing 70 million pieces a year and a turnover worth € 4 billion were at stake: such figures demand definite proposals, such as those announced by Greenrail.
According to De Lisi, the “sustainable sleeper”, ensures lower costs (with maintenance expenses down 50%), longer duration (50 years, compared to the “30-40 of concrete concrete,”) and less vibration and noise pollution.

Moreover, the environmental impact must be taken into account: the composition of the sleeper allows the disposal of 50 tons of plastic per line kilometer. In addition, thanks to piezoelectric systems placed under the rails, every kilometer of track produces an average of 120 kwh at each transit of 10-15 trains in an hour, causing an economic impact.

Prices are around € 70 per bar, against the average € 98 for concrete. The offer is flexible, depending on the line: underground trains, local trains with speed up to 190 km per hour, high speed trains over 250 km per hour.

The product has been patented in 147 countries, and the brand has already drawn the attention of partners from the United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil and some Persian Gulf countries. From here to 2034, sales are expected to grow at a very fast pace. “In the next 20 years, profits could hit € 15 billion. Also, Greenrail could add extra eco-friendly value to countries that choose it,” said De Lisi.