The 26,000lb bus represents a departure for the electric vehicle market, which has traditionally focused on smaller vehicles. The Tesla Roadster, for example, is a two-seater. The Mitsubishi i MiEV and the Smart ED are sub-compacts, while the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus range from compact to mid-size. Moreover, most of the vehicles' batteries are either air- or liquid-cooled.
While most auto companies are searching for ways to boost range to 150 miles and beyond, Smith isn't worried about it.
The Newton eTrans electrification system employs a permanent magnet motor rated at 150kW of peak power. (Source: Smith Electric Vehicles)
"Our customers have very dedicated routes," Hansel said. "They know their exact distances, and we size the batteries for the applications." He added that an electric school bus could also be recharged during the day, when the buses aren't in use, as well as at night.
Cost of the buses is expected to be considerably higher than the cost of diesel-based buses, but exact figures are not yet available, as production isn't expected to begin until the second quarter of 2012.
Smith, which specializes in electrification of medium-duty trucks (such as delivery trucks), expects to eventually build a bigger bus with a gross weight of 33,000lb. That bus could hold between 65 and 70 passengers.
"There are always going to be electrification applications that fit nicely in the 100-mile duty cycle," Hansel said. "School buses are one of those applications."
For a close-up look at GM's Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller. In the trip sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
Wow, what a great idea for applying EV technology. The fact that school bus routes (and even inner city bus routes) have specific routines with little opportunity for variation do make them strong candidates for EV transportation. Problem is what the problem always is: Cost. School systems don't have the budgets to fund these type of vehicles and while many schools sub out bus transportation to private providers, the question is whether they could sustain any additional cost associated with not only the new vehicles, but the infrastructure that would have to go in place to handle the nightly charging.
Very interesting concept, Chuck, and I think it demonstrates the kind of engineering thinking and focus on efficiency solutions that we need more of. It will be interesting to see how much the cost premium is versus diesel-based buses.
Beth, actually the issue is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a system like this. For new technologies like electric and natural gas driven vehicles (I know these aren't really new, just coming back) this type of application is perfect. I have long advocated that these technologies be mandated for government entities, where appropriate, as a first step. But, the TCO first. Electric vehicles do not need the maintenance that conventional vehicles do. They also do not use diesel fuel, which fluctuates wildly in cost. So, while the article did not give us enough information to make a final determination, there is a good chance that this could be the case. School districts often purchase captial equipment through bond issues, therefore spreading out the cost, so that might not be as big a deal either.
As for the use of these technologies by government agencies, I think that is a great way for the government toevaluate and prove new technologies without mandating them for the private economy. Often local governments have their own refueling infrastructure and their vehicles operate in a limited geography. Thus, if the technology is useful, this helps build an industrial base for it and gives valuable information to potential future users. If it really works, then the private economy will adopt it.
I still see a problem with range anxiety for school buses.
Looking at rural America, what if the fleet of electric school buses plugged into their overnight charging stanchions either at school or more likely in the dooryards of the bus drivers have no commercial power due to an overnight storm? Weather is fine the next morning but school might have to be cancelled since most children may be without reliable bus service.
And what about communities whose nuclear power plant evacuation plans include moving children out of the danger zone via school buses whose mid-day charge might prove insufficient for the unexpected route change and interrupted charging supply?
Good point, Bdcst. Those would be relatively infrequent events, but they do happen inevitably. So instead of just snow days, the school system would have to allow for power-out-last-night days. I have two kids who live in separate rural areas, and power outages due to storms are much more frequent in rural areas than they are in the city.
@bdcst: Your point about the range issue for rural communities is real. I think the key takeaway with that very real reminder is that even with the very benefits the EV buses can deliver, they (and alternative vehicle technology in general) is not a use case for every situation. Rural communities have different circumstances to deal with than an urban school system. Therefore, the backup plans and equipment they'd have to put in place to support a transition to an EV bus fleet would shoot the ROI right in the foot, hence not a sound use case. That said, I do think this has great potential and just because it isn't a fit for some doesn't mean it wouldn't be great to see pockets of adoption out there.
These busses sound good, however they only make any sense in dense city environments where other electric transportation (communter trains, etc.) are already there or would be less expensive to setup and install.
These EVs place a huge (more than several houses) load on the electric grid when they re-charge (if they are to be re-charged in one 'night'). Has anyone looked at the tremendous strain a couple of hundred of these would put on electric infrastructure
Refueling a conventional bus takes an hour. Refueling an EV of this size takes all night and the batteries may require cooling if it is to be recharged in one 'shift'.
A half century ago, cars were still built by people, not robots. Even on some of the country’s longest assembly lines, human workers installed windows, doors, hoods, engines, windshields, and batteries, with no robotic aid.
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