Battery powered buses are electrifying the industry

SAN ANTONIO — Advances in battery capacity and global commercialization have brought a surge of electrical energy to the bus and motorcoach industry.

John O’Brien

At Motorcoach Expo 2017 the vehicle manufacturer BYD displayed what it called “the world’s first 45-foot battery-electric over-the-road coach,” with batteries delivering 200 miles per charge, making it a candidate for commuting and shuttle trips.

Cummins and BAE systems advanced the game at Motorcoach Expo 2018 by exhibiting technology that could take electric technology across the country by combining batteries with fuel cells or matching electric motors in hybrid configurations with diesel or compressed natural gas engines.

With other motorcoach manufacturers working on electric drive trains, the Motorcoach Expo 2019 floor could hold multiple examples of groundbreaking electric technology.

When asked about the arrival of electric motorcoaches during a panel discussion, Roman Cornell of ABC Companies said Van Hool was building an electric motorcoach for shipment to the U.S. this summer.

“Van Hool has been building electric buses for a long time so there is nothing new about that to them,” added Louis Hotard, director of technical support at ABC Companies. “All the tech has been done — the issue has been where you get the energy.”

Motor Coach Industries has an electric motorcoach under construction at its facility in Winnipeg.

“MCI has been tracking the requirements and interest in this technology for several years,” said Brent Maitland, vice president of marketing and product planning. “As battery cost decreases, storage increases and the regulatory environment, such as that in California, favors zero emissions, we’ll watch more operators want to adopt these solutions.”

The Cummins engine display at this year’s Expo held some new big red machines this year — components for its battery electric vehicle (BEV) and range-extended electric vehicle (REEV) systems.

“We will be offering two electric power trains that tailor the power train to meet the needs of the customer through the size of the battery, through different forms of charging or offering a range extender option,” said John O’Brien, a Cummins technical project leader.

For a full battery-electric system range is dictated by the size of the batteries, O’Brien said. The REEV package carries batteries capable of 84 miles of zero-emissions travel. When the batteries are depleted, a diesel engine generates electricity for ultra-low emissions travel.

“If an operator wants to have a tour bus go into a city and geofence — turn off the engine in a city center or a sensitive area like Yellowstone — we can do that,” O’Brien said. “You size your electric energy storage to handle that part of the duty cycle.”

Cummins is looking at transit and commuter service as its first adopters of the BEV and REEV systems, he said. “We do have some motorcoach customers who are asking about it.”

BAE Systems presented six levels of electrification through module displays at Expo. It identifies those as battery electric, fuel cell, electric-range hybrid, hybrid electric, electric accessories and parallel hybrid for motorcoach.

“There is a modular system so a lot of the components are in common,” said Ross Hobson, capability manager of power and propulsion systems.

BAE’s options range from full battery-electric to configurations combining batteries and motors with varying degrees of engine or fuel cell backup. Some options drive the wheels directly off an engine. The engine also may drive an electrical generator that charges the batteries and drives an electrical motor.

The Van Hool factory in Belgium started working on an electric motorcoach for ABC Companies the week before Christmas, Cornell said.

“For the next few months there will be a process of electrifying it. We will have the vehicle by June or July. We expect it to have 195-mile range. We plan to show it at Expo 2019.”

The global proliferation of battery-powered automobiles and other vehicles will make electric motorcoaches more feasible, Cornell said.

“The battery technology is what is going to hold the process back. The more batteries that get out there, the more people using them, the costs are going to come down.”

The cost of charging systems also will control the adoption of electric vehicles, he said. “Chargers cost $50,000 to $120,000. The range depends on the amperage as well as the number of charging centers.”

Hotard said companies have to have the right operation. “You are never going to go from Jacksonville to Los Angeles. But if you run shuttles and you can charge for 12 hours that is your gig. You have to have the infrastructure. If you have 15 buses, that is a lot of infrastructure cost for chargers.”

Cornell predicted that financing options for electric coaches could include the investment in battery chargers.

MCI also is assembling an electric motorcoach for the North American market. The prototype is a J4500, which shares architecture with the new D45 CRT LE coach displayed in San Antonio.

“It is planned to enter testing in the first or second quarter of 2018 and production in January 2020,” Maitland said. “The unit is planned to meet rigorous commuter demands of our customers and is planned for highway speeds and the ability to pull grade. MCI’s all-electric development efforts are focused on high-torque and long range to power coaches efficiently at both high and low speeds.”

The MCI coach will benefit from the decades of electric transit coach experience amassed by parent company New Flyer Industries, he said.

“In the future, electric will probably be as prolific as diesel technology today.”

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