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Posted on May 01, 2012 by Dr Peter Harrop

Lessons from Electric Futures London

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Electric Futures London took place 27 April with about 40 people present. Its focus was rail and bus electrification. Peter Harrop of IDTechEx started by covering free-running electric buses and briefly the whole EV scene, noting the importance of a host of new technologies from multiple energy harvesting to supercapacitors.
Enno Wiebe, Senior Adviser to the Community of European Railway infrastructure Companies observed that public transport is second only to power generation in carbon dioxide emissions. However, buses are only 0.9% of transport in this respect. Most of the pollution is by light commercial and industrial vehicles, so Volvo, for example, has built a hybrid electric excavator. With full figures, he showed how hybrids easily beat biogas and diesel on particulates, NOX and carbon dioxide. Plug-in bus trials start in November eg inductively charging every 9km. In a less elegant solution, BYD pure electric buses each with two tonnes of batteries will also be trialled. He mentioned that Sunwin (SAIC: Volvo joint company) has supercapacitor buses and NovaBus is collaborating with Quebec Province in Canada.
He reported that catenaries are increasingly complex, expensive to install and maintain and ugly and they involve 20% of DC energy being lost. Because of cost and other factors, he did not see fuel cells being viable for buses and trains within the coming decade, even demoted to the task of range extenders rather than engine replacements.
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John Trayner, Managing Director of Go Ahead London gave detail on how this highly acquisitive bus and train operator is moving rapidly into hybrid buses, their largest fleet involving 31% hybrids already. He will trial two BYD pure electric buses in May but no one was arguing that they will be viable. Go Ahead is showing how Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems KERS, the 50 kg, 40k rpm flywheels capturing braking energy, that are already used in Formula One, will reach buses, saving 35%. He said that all-electric ranges are extending to 130-140 miles.
Liz Halstead, Policy Manager Transport for London expressed concern that 80% of particulate emissions in London are from road transport. 149 hybrid buses ply the roads so far, 300 by the end of 2012, so progress is slow. The 22,000 taxis and 50,000 private hire vehicles are also major contributors. Legislation restricting the pollution is slow in being enacted but, in "Yes, Minister" speak, TfL wants "100,000 electric vehicles in the city as soon as possible" and 600 charge points are already in place. The plan is that no Londoner will be more than one mile from one - but we did not hear a date for that either. The present ones need a £10 subscription then, splendidly, the electricity is free. Understandably, this will not last forever.
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Matthew Lawrence, Lead Platform Engineer Hybrid Drive Solutions, gave an impressively informative talk about their leadership in series-hybrid bus powertrains "a transition product to pure electric", with more than 3500 on the road, and the parallel hybrid powertrain being developed for trucks because they do much less stop-start and much more motorway cruising.
North America is the biggest hybrid bus market and stop-start alone gives 50% fuel saving according to him. He agreed that fuel cells are very expensive to buy and maintain for the needed "12 years in a bus". He liked his program for plug-in hybrid buses recharged by a small rig of overhead wiring at intervals along the route, the battery being relatively small. Given the slowness in improving traction batteries, it is clear that many work-arounds are becoming available. The battery people will not hold up this particular party but best practice and fastest adoption will rarely be seen in Europe in our opinion. For example, the leading manufacturers of supercapacitors and traction batteries and the greatest adoption of hybrid buses to date (New York we learnt) lie outside Europe.
Adrian Pinder of GE Transportation solicited ideas for applications for its acquired old Zebra hot Sodium Metal Halide (NiCl:NaAlCl:alumina:Na) rechargeable battery technology. GE has built a $20 million factory to make them. He described a slightly better energy density than Li-ion and promised that they will be returning to buses, in trials at least. IDTechEx understands that GE's main competitor is FZ Sonick, the Italian company formerly known as Fiamm, which bought a controlling interest in Switzerland's MES-DEA, the sole European manufacturer of sodium-nickel-chloride batteries, another name for the general chemistry involved.
Nickel-salt was used by Daimler for use in electric buses. GE's big push for the product now seems to be in stationary markets, though it's also working on big batteries for train locomotives.
Martin Briggs, consultant with Frost & Sullivan flipped speedily through very interesting projections of hybrid bus sales in Europe and the World rehearsing the usual things influencing all this and branding them Mega Trends.
Alex Schey, Director of Vantage Power introduced us to another hybrid retrofit for buses and similar vehicles as already seen in the USA and India for example. It will be great if these offers start to be taken up, because there is little evidence that buses are being retired early to replace them with cleaner ones and bus life is 8-20 years. Please wait, dear planet. Shane Slater Director of Element Energy covered hydrogen and electric drivetrains.
Also attend Energy Harvesting & Storage Europe External Link being held 15-16 May 2012.
Dr Peter Harrop

Authored By: Dr Peter Harrop