Electric transit bus prospects

The major growth in electric buses is in free running versions which cost $50,000 to $500,000 and can usually be deployed without infrastructure along the route. The larger electric buses tend to be hybrid to get the range: smaller ones tend to be pure electric. The IDTechEx report, “Electric Vehicles 2010-2020” estimates that there are about 480,000 buses in the world - mostly small ones - with about 135,000 being bought each year as the fleets grow. Although only 12% of these new buses are electric, penetration is increasing and there is a multibillion dollar market awaiting.


Electric buses reduce noise and air and land pollution and do the job better. They are often adopted regardless of payback because local government wishes to be seen to be green. Passengers note improved quietness and hill climbing ability. Arnhem in the Netherlands saw use of local buses increase by 17% when electric versions were introduced.


Electric buses cost up to 50% more per vehicle and need charging infrastructure but they are cost effective. Fuel is cheaper, maintenance is less and life is longer.


Today, the typical hybrid bus is a series or series-parallel hybrid because the benefits of having an electric motor drive the wheels. Lithium-ion batteries are preferred for all but the smallest ones because of size, weight, charge retention and faster charge and discharge. Regenerative braking saves up to 30% of energy because there is so much stop start. Many hybrid electric buses automatically stop the engine when the bus stops for more than a few seconds and automatically start it again when the accelerator is depressed.

Maverick technologies are at the testing and small scale at present such as buses that have no battery but use ultracapacitors (supercapacitors). These only give them a range of two miles or so but last for twenty years and have superior charge and discharge rate to that of batteries. The best ultracapacitors only store 5% of the energy that lithium-ion batteries hold. Cost may be less than for batteries - which often need ultracapacitors anyway to manage fast charge and discharge. The idea is to top them up by infrastructure at stops on suitably intensive routes, using coils in the road, just like your electric toothbrush. Sinautec’s ultracapacitor buses in the USA are charged at bus stops every two or three miles.

Inductive charging, though wasteful, is being tried for charging regular battery driven buses as well for increased safety and convenience. In one type the cable connector is inductive and in another the coil is in the road so the driver does not need to get out. Hino, a division of Toyota, is testing wireless electric buses using this electromagnetic inductive charging. Alternative charging systems for electric buses include very rapid charging installed at specific bus stops.

In contrast to today’s pure electric buses with 50-100 miles range, FAW Bus and Coach Company with battery maker Tongkun New Energy Technologies plans people-carriers with 186 miles (300 km) range near two cities in Jilin. FAW made over 1000 diesel-electric, parallel hybrid buses for the Beijing Olympics and Shanghai Expo. It now has orders for 70 long range, pure electric buses. The lithium iron phosphate batteries recharge in only twenty minutes. Useful life is 2,000 cycles. They could last 300,000 miles, price is only 500,000 yuan ($73,145) and there are low running costs.


There are about 30 electric bus manufacturers in the world that are taking substantial orders. For large buses, a high proportion use electric drive systems from leaders such as BAE Systems, Siemens and UQM Technologies. BAE Systems’ HybriDrive technology powers over 2,500 buses in the UK and North America, transporting more than one million passengers every day. These buses have travelled over 150 million miles, saved 10 million gallons of diesel fuel and prevented more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The HybriDrive system consists of a generator, an electric motor and a computer controlled energy-storage system. The diesel engine that turns the generator operates independently of the electric drive motor, allowing it to run at nearly constant speed. There is no mechanical transmission, a major maintenance item on conventional buses.
The power train manufacturers buy the most expensive part, the battery pack, from lithium traction battery manufacturers such as Panasonic, LGChem, Altairnano, EnerDel, BYD, ThunderSky and Valence Technologies.

Range extenders

A half way house between today’s hybrid buses and pure electric buses is pure electric with a small range extender that is only used when needed. Range extenders will increasingly consist of devices such as Bladon Jets mini turbines that are less polluting, less dependent on oil, quieter, smaller, more reliable and in some cases able to burn a wide variety of fuels. The later generation of hybrid buses will sometimes use fuel cells when the fuel distribution, eg hydrogen, can be made affordable and safe. Proterra buses with fuel cell range-extenders are deployed in Burbank, Austin and Columbia in the USA but fuel cells have challenges of cost, reliability and sometimes start up time.


Chinese leaders wish to turn the country into a leading producer of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that. It is behind the United States, Japan and other countries in gasoline-powered vehicles so it will leapfrog to electric. However, electric vehicles will not clear the smog-darkened sky in the next decade or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases because China gets 75% of its electricity from coal.


New York and some other parts of the USA are in the vanguard in adopting electric buses. There is a Californian mandate (Zero Emission Bus, in short, ZBus) that 15% of new buses after 2011 be electric. The ZBus Regulation is part of the Fleet Rule for Transit Agencies, which is also referred to as the Public Transit Agencies Regulation.

United Kingdom

The UK is installing electric buses in many cities. London, with a population of up to eight million depending on where you draw the line, has one of the largest urban transport systems in the world. It has 8500 buses run by nine companies contracted by Transport for London. Every 24 hours, 6.4 million passenger journeys take place on 700 routes. At $450,000 each, the hybrid buses chosen for the future cost 50% more than traditional diesel versions but there will be 300 in London by 2012, up from 56 in 2010. From then onwards, then all 800 buses retired every year will probably be replaced by hybrid versions and the whole fleet will be converted by 2024.

Unique event

At the unique event “Future of Electric Vehicles 7-8 December in San Jose California, the market for all electric vehicles in the world and specifically East Asia will be forecasted by type. Fiat Group, which makes hybrid electric buses, will present and BAE Systems will talk on bus power trains. KPIT Cummins presents an affordable hybrid conversion for buses and third generation lithium batteries suitable for buses will be presented by Oxis Energy and PolyPlus Battery Company. Solar power more suitable than that currently fitted to buses will be described, range extenders and other new components such as electricity-generating shock absorbers. There is an exhibition and optional masterclasses and visits to local centers of excellence in electric vehicles. Emphasis is on all electric vehicles - land, water, air - and future breakthroughs.

For more see www.IDTechEx.com/evUSA


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