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CEC Report: Electric Vehicle Battery Recycling to Surge

A new report outlining best practices to recapture and recycle the materials used in electric-drive vehicle (EDV) batteries once they reach end-of-life has been published by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

According to the CEC, an organisation intended to facilitate collaboration and public participation to protect the environment in North America the context of increasing trade and social links among Canada, Mexico, and the US, the market in North America for electric-drive vehicles has surged over the last 10 years and the supply of end-of-life batteries for EDVs is expected to continue to increase.

The report sais that this represents a vital opportunity to recapture and recycle the valuable materials used in EDV batteries, such as nickel, cobalt, steel, and other components.

The study—carried-out in partnership with Environment Canada, Mexico’s Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat) and Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático (INECC), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – examines how EDV batteries are currently managed at end-of-life across North America to best protect human health and the environment.

The report, Environmentally Sound Management of End-of-Life Batteries from Electric-Drive Vehicles in North America, warned that design changes to incorporate less costly materials in EDV batteries need to be assessed to ensure the continuing environmentally sound management of the batteries at end-of-life.

This report characterises the types, quantities, and composition of batteries used in EDVs in North America, and outlines best practices and technologies to support their environmentally sound management at end of life

Key Findings and recomendations

  • It is projected that about 276,000 EDV batteries will reach EOL in North America in 2015
  • Most of these batteries are likely to be nickel metal hydride (NiMH), which is the predominant battery chemistry used in HEVs
  • By 2030, almost 1.5 million EDV batteries will reach EOL. By that time, close to half the EOL EDV batteries will be lithium-based, with the remainder being NiMH batteries
  • The constituents of EDV batteries (mostly nickel from NiMH batteries and cobalt from Li-ion batteries) provide an economic incentive for recycling at this time. Battery designs are changing so that they contain less-valuable materials; this is a concern for the economics of future recycling efforts
  • Large auto manufacturers such as Toyota and Honda are establishing reverse supply chains to ensure that EOL EDV batteries are recovered and properly recycled
  • Companies already in the battery recycling business (Retriev, RMC, Umicore, Glencore/Xstrata, etc.) can process large-format NiMH and Li-ion batteries as long as they are broken down to smaller components (cells or packs). Companies with smelting operations (sometimes large global companies such as Umicore, Glencore/Xstrata, etc., with global supply chains) are interested in recycling EDV batteries because of their metal content
  • The economics of recycling EDV batteries depends on the value of the metals and other materials which can be recovered. In some cases, companies pay a credit against a processing fee. In other cases a tipping fee is charged
  • The recycling/processing infrastructure for EDV batteries is in its infancy, but large players are already in the market and are assessing options for future expansion. It is likely that more players will emerge over time as the supply of EOL EDV batteries increases.

According to the authors, governments should also be vigilant so that appropriate legislation is in place to support and promote the environmentally sound recycling of these batteries.

Hong Kong’s prototype electric bus goes up in flames

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Researchers develop sodium-ion battery in 18650 format

Jules Verne recognized the potential of sodium batteries in 1869 – they powered the futuristic submarine of Captain Nemo, who found their “electro-motor strength” to be twice that of zinc batteries.

Now scientists at the French research network RS2E have brought sodium batteries into the 21st century, producing the first sodium-ion battery in the industry-standard 18650 format (a cylindrical format used in consumer electronics and Tesla automobiles). Several other labs are also working on Na-ion batteries, but RS2E is the first to announce the development of an 18650 prototype.

Batterie sodium-ion (Na-ion) au format industriel standard « 18650 », posée sur un tas de sel (NaCl). Il s’agit de la première batterie au sodium mise au point dans ce format. Dans ce type de batterie, les ions sodium transitent d’une électrode à l’autre au fil des cycles de charge et de décharge. Elle représente une alternative aux batteries lithium-ion actuellement utilisées dans les ordinateurs portables ou encore les voitures électriques. Elle présente l’avantage d’utiliser un élément 1 000 fois plus abondant et aussi moins coûteux que le lithium : le sodium. Ses performances en densité d'énergie sont comparables à celles des premières batteries lithium-ion avec une marge de progression importante.  20150016_0006

Na-ion batteries could offer lower cost thanks to the abundance of sodium, and the prototype shows promising performance. The energy density of the new Na-ion cell is 90 Wh/kg, comparable with that of the first lithium-ion batteries. Its lifespan exceeds 2,000 charge/discharge cycles, and it is capable of charging and discharging rapidly.

The next step is to optimize and increase the reliability of the cell with a view to future commercialization.

“The first application, the most obvious, would be grid storage: storing renewable energy. We are talking about a market as big as the EV market,” said Jean-Marie Tarascon, a professor at the Collège de France and one of the heads of the RS2E network.

Ford reveals ambitious electrification plans

For the past several months, we EV newshounds have suspected that Ford had plans for a new generation of plug-ins up its sleeve. Now the #2 US automaker is beginning to reveal its answer to electric rivals GM, Nissan, VW et al.

Ford announced plans to invest a record $4.5 billion in electric tech over the next five years, adding 13 new electrified vehicles to its lineup by 2020. By that time, some 40 percent of the company’s global nameplates will be offered in electrified versions. (Note: the term “electrified” refers to many different forms of advanced energy storage in vehicles, from stop-start micro-hybrids all the way up to fully electric vehicles.)

A new Focus Electric, featuring DC fast-charging capability and a projected 100-mile range, is scheduled to go into production late next year.

Ford has also hinted that it will unveil a new plug-in vehicle at next month’s Detroit Auto show. Pictures posted to Twitter by the WSJ’s John Stoll show a vehicle under wraps that has the general outline of a Fusion. An update of the Energi PHEV? A fully electric Fusion?

Ford has been bulking up on battery R&D – it has hired 120 new EV engineers in Dearborn, and is expanding its network of research facilities in Europe and China.

“Batteries are the life force of any EV, and we have been committed to growing our leadership in battery research and development for more than 15 years,” said Kevin Layden, Director, Ford Electrification Programs. “Battery technology has evolved rapidly since we launched our first volume electrified product, the Ford Escape Hybrid, in 2004, and we look forward to developing even better vehicle battery technology for our customers.”



Massive Beijing charging station can charge 30 e-buses at up to 360 kW

EV bus charging in Xiaoying Charging Complex (PRNewsFoto/Microvast)

EV bus charging in Xiaoying Charging Complex (PRNewsFoto/Microvast)

China is now the capital of big things, especially when it comes to EVs. China State Grid has opened the world’s largest ultra-fast EV charging station in Beijing. The 26,500-square-meter charging complex at Xiaoying Terminal has 25 360 kW chargers and five 90 kW chargers, and can charge 30 electric transit buses at a time.

Xiaoying Terminal originally supported a natural gas hybrid bus fleet. At least 10 city bus routes have now converted to battery-electric buses. For example, route 13 is using Foton buses with battery technology from Microvast (featured in Charged Issue 4). Recharging takes 10-15 minutes, and takes place 2-3 times per day, during driver breaks, with several route loops between each charge.

There are already plans for the facility to be expanded as more bus routes convert to EVs.

New Energy [R]Evolution Scenario from Greenpeace

The new 364-page Greenpeace scenario (GPER)1 portrays a world that is dominated by solar and wind by 2030 and even more so by 2050. Together they provide 43 per cent of electrical energy in 2030 and 75 per cent in 2050, replacing first lignite and nuclear, then coal and then gas. Biomass, geothermal and ocean power are given a minor role, but together with hydro they can help balance intermittent wind and photovoltaics. Much of this is what you would expect. Solar thermal, which produces power from solar heat, will also make also a big contribution, almost 19 per cent of all electricity by 2050, not so far behind PV. Heat can be stored, so power output is (somewhat) dispatchable, unlike PV, and can provide power at night. However, unlike photovoltaics, solar thermal power has so far not lived up to its promises. Greenpeace has long had high hopes for it, but has now postponed its breakthrough.

The hard part of reducing CO₂ emissions is not electricity, though. Neither is it heat, which can be provided via electricity, and that is what GPER counts on.

The hardest part is transport. There are three options: biofuels, electric cars, and hydrogen. Biofuels are produced in large quantity now, but mainly from farmland, where they may compete with food production and biodiversity. Electric cars are favoured by many car manufacturers, but Toyota, the biggest of them all, opts for hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars. GPER bets on both.
“The limited potentials of biofuels and probably also battery electric mobility make it necessary to have a third renewable option”, i.e. hydrogen.

This still means a tremendous increase in electricity (batteries) for road traffic: from 9 petajoules (PJ) in 2012, to 400 PJ in 2020 and 23,000 in 2050. Biofuels also increase, but only to about twice the present volume.
“The use of biofuels is limited by the availability of sustainably grown biomass. It will primarily be committed to heavy machinery, aviation and shipping, where electricity does not seem to be an option for the next few decades. Outside the transport sector, biomass is needed for specific industries to supply process heat and carbon”.

Let me add a personal note. When I interviewed people at the pro-CCS organisation Bellona in Oslo in 2008, their main line of argument was that CCS is needed because you cannot cut emissions enough without it. “Look at Greenpeace’s brand new [R]Evolution scenario”, they said. “It does not do the job!”

I found that this was true. The 2008 GPER projected just a 2 per cent global emission drop from year 2000 to year 2030. Fossil use in global primary energy demand would decrease only 50 per cent from 2010 to 2050. Obviously this was no way to save the world.

Intriguing. Greenpeace are no cowards. They are brave, outspoken, and smart!

They now have improved their act since 2008. The 2015 [R]Evolution sets 2050 CO₂ emissions at 4,358 Mtons, compared with 10,589 in the 2008 scenario. This means a fair chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees. But almost all the cuts are projected to take place after 2030. And this is not compatible with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

Maybe that is what is likely to happen, but what then is the point? The scenario should look at possibilities, to explain what Greenpeace wants, not what it guesses.

Now energy modelling is a tricky business. You feed in a lot of data and assumptions and the least you should ask for is internal consistency, so all the sums add up. It is mathematically quite demanding to construct a model that generates numbers on coal consumption In China in 2050 that fit together with economic growth assumptions and wind power installations in North America in 2025. Obviously you do not want wind power to grow very fast one year and then grind to a halt the next year, because unless you have a fairly consistent trend, the model will get very unstable, so a small change in one assumption will cause a landslide of big changes everywhere else. Unless the computer overheats.

But this requirement for stability and smoothness of curves in the model seems to lead to an unwarranted conservatism about the rate of change.

In the real world things happen superfast, stop or even slide backwards, and then skyrocket again. Two neighbouring countries move at extremely different speeds. Take solar power development in a group of countries since 2007.

In 2007, Germany was practically alone in its quest for solar, though Spain had just started. Then several countries experienced growth rates of several hundred per cent for several years. Spain, for example, grew its solar production from 0.5 TWh in 2007 to 12 TWh in 2012, i.e. by a factor of 24, or an average annual growth of 89 per cent. The 2008 growth was more than 400 per cent. The reasons for the fits and starts are overwhelmingly political. The 470 per cent growth that was seen in Italy in 2011 decelerated in 2013 not because the infrastructure would not permit more or because the market was saturated. It decelerated because of political decisions, just as the boom started as a result of political decisions.

Much the same can be seen for wind power. Between 2013 and 2014, Egypt’s wind power grew by 3,244 percent. Denmark’s solar power capacity grew by 2,040 per cent in 2012.

The opposite, contraction, can also happen pretty quickly. As a result of the Fukushima accident, Japan went from 292.4 TWh of nuclear power in 2010 to zero in 2014. There was also a drastic change in Germany. UK coal use fell by 20 per cent in 2014. Gas consumption in Europe fell dramatically between 2011 and 2014.

Over a longer time span and over larger regions, curves get smoother. Not because of physical constraints or saturation – but because governments cave in to the fossil and nuclear lobby.

But even on longer timescales and around the whole world, the models tend to underestimate change. The IEA has consistently overestimated nuclear and coal, and underestimated wind and solar in its canonical annual World Energy Outlooks.

NGO scenarios have tended to bend and stretch the IEA models, but to stay within their framework. In models, CO₂ emissions appear as a product of GDP, population, energy intensity etc. This is highly questionable, because emissions are real, while GDP and energy intensity are just derived numbers. Population is real but its effect on emissions is too erratic to be useful for any prediction or prescription. Luxemburg, with just 0.5 million people, uses as much electricity as Ethiopia, which has 100 million people.

The 2008 [R]Evolution scenario projected 386 TWh solar PV for 2020. Greenpeace was too shy to even hope for what happened anyway.

Evolution, according to Charles Darwin, moves slowly by small, small steps. But then he did not know that all multicellular life started with one single extremely improbable event, and that one asteroid killed off all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The world is less inert, more susceptible to change, than the models depict. Perhaps it would be better to think more about the next 15 years, never mind 2050!

It is hard to get it right even so. Who now believes the GPER assumption that the oil price will be $106 by 2020 (and stay there)? It is $45 in November 2015. The difference has large consequences for all energy markets – but it does not have a strong influence on political decisions such as feed-in-tariffs or renewable certificates.

One advantage of modelling is, however, that it can optimize the use of resources, for example by avoiding building more power lines and storage than is really needed. If the world would follow the GPER recipe, it would save a lot of money. But don’t bet on a smooth transition!

Fredrik Lundberg
1. Also briefly presented in AN October 2015

Electric taxi project in Hong Kong goes belly up: China’s BYD brands 2-year campaign a ‘failure’

Automaker also struggling to sell e-buses in city and has only received orders for 14 so far, it says

Chinese automaker BYD, which is partly owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, officially branded its two-year trial run of electric taxis in Hong Kong as a failure on Friday.

“I’m the one to take charge of BYD’s e-taxi project in Hong Kong,” said Ding Haimiao,assistant to the general manager at the carmaker.

“I have to say it’s a failure,” he added.

Ding made the comments to a group of academic and technology industry figures from Hong Kong during a speech in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

In 2013, BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu said he expected the company to launch dozens of e6 electric car taxis in Hong Kong by the end of that year.

He predicted the number would grow to 1,000 by 2014 and 3,000 this year.

That didn’t happen.

BYD has still only launched 45 e6 cabs and three charging stations in Hong Kong – enough to cover 150 electric cabs, it said.

Ding insisted that the firm has proved to the local government that electric cabs can greatly benefit the city by saving energy costs and better protecting the environment

“I’m calling it a failure because we lost so much money from this project,” he said.

The automaker has made a series of investments to support this programme, for example covering the cost of charging stations and vehicle maintenance, he added.



He said the model fits the local market but has nonetheless met with resistance from a number of industry figures, especially established taxi drivers.

“The Hong Kong government already knows [all] the figures and results, like the energy cost savings. But it really depends on the government [to see] how far it will go in moving forward this e-taxi plan,” he said.

It is normal for new policies from the government to inspire a backlash until doubts are cleared up, he said.

READ MORE: ‘Our business is tough enough’: Plan to launch premium taxi service in Hong Kong raises hackles [3]

In another part of its electric push, BYD has also made slow progress in pressing ahead with electric buses in Hong Kong, Ding said.

The company has so far received orders for 14 of these in Hong Kong, but the number of orders pales compared to other traffic-heavy markets in which it operates, he added.

BYD said last week it plans to sell 15,000 electric taxis and 6,000 electric buses this year.

Analysts say 95 per cent of these are likely destined for China.

In April, the company won an order from the state of California to deliver 60 electric buses.

Charge-as-You-Drive Could Ease Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety

Efforts to curb carbon emissions via government automobile regulation means that ultra-low emission vehicles, including pure electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids, will play an increasing role in the way we travel.

In California, for instance, by the 2025 model year, 15.4% of projected statewide sales of 1.75 million cars and light trucks sold by automakers will have to be zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). California will not be alone. Federal law permits other states to adopt California’s automotive emissions rules if they are stricter than federal regulations (and they are, since there is at present no federal ZEV mandate). As a result, nine other states and the District of Columbia say they will follow California and institute their own ZEV requirements.

However, among the current obstacles to widespread adoption of EVs are their long charging times and lack of available charging stations. Currently, the most common EV or hybrid EV power transfer system is the plug-in electric charger. These usually charge at between 3 kilowatts (kW) and 50kW (some, like the Tesla supercharger, can go up to 120kW) while the vehicle is stationary and switched off. This solution is adequate for charging at home or in parking garages since the vehicle must spend considerable time standing still.

However, what if the EV charging infrastructure could be extended via the application of inductive power transfer to the vehicle during driving? The concept is called Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer (DWPT) and studies have shown that introducing DWPT on roadways would increase the likelihood of consumers using an EV as their main car. The technology would address driver concerns about restricted driving range and the possibility of running out of power between charging stations.

Overview of the wireless inductive power transfer pads embedded underneath the roadway at Utah State University’s test track. Image source: Utah State University.

Overview of the wireless inductive power transfer pads embedded underneath the roadway at Utah State University’s test track. Image source: Utah State University.

From Tesla to Test Track

The principle of wireless power transfer is simple: it is an open-core transformer consisting of primary transmitter and secondary receiver coils and associated electronics. Magnetic induction (MI) schemes use an electromagnetic field of a given frequency generated by alternating current in the transmitter to induce a voltage in the receiver coil. (In a wireless inductive charging system, the primary coil resides in the charging device and the secondary coil is located in the device being charged.)

The notion that resonance could be used to improve wireless power transmission is well known. In 1894, Nikola Tesla was granted a patent for a resonant inductive coupling to supply electric current to the motors of streetcars from a stationary source. He proposed doing so without the use of contacts between the line conductor and the car motor.

The principle of wireless power transfer is simple; it is an open-core transformer consisting of primary transmitter and secondary receiver coils and associated electronics.

The principle of wireless power transfer is simple; it is an open-core transformer consisting of primary transmitter and secondary receiver coils and associated electronics.

Charge-as-you-drive technologies have already been pioneered in several places. In South Korea, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a wireless power transfer technology called OLEV, short for On-Line Electric Vehicles. It works using technology embedded beneath the road.

In the town of Gumi, a route has been built that allows buses to recharge while in motion. The technology supplies 60 kHz and 180 kW of power wirelessly to the transport vehicles. The route length is 35km, and the length of the DWPT section is 144m, comprised of four DWPT sections. Two buses are equipped to recharge while driving over this roadway; the OLEV buses have coils on their underside to pick up power through the electromagnetic field on the road. The DWPT system enables the buses to reduce the size of the reserve battery used to one-fifth that of the battery on board a typical electric car.

Bombardier, a leading manufacturer of planes and trains, has developed a charging system for trams called PRIMOVE. The technology allows vehicles to run continuously without overhead lines. A research project undertaken by Flanders DRIVE, a research organization supported by the Flemish government, allowed Bombardier to test its inductive charging technology on road-based vehicles using a test track built on a public road. During a feasibility study in Lomel, Belgium, between 2011 and 2013, a bus was retrofitted with the first-generation PRIMOVE system.

Two buses are equipped to recharge while driving over this roadway; the OLEV buses have coils on their underside to pick up power through the electromagnetic field on the road.

Two buses are equipped to recharge while driving over this roadway; the OLEV buses have coils on their underside to pick up power through the electromagnetic field on the road.

Fitting the bus with PRIMOVE charging equipment designed for a maximum energy transfer of 160kW proved the technical feasibility of high-power Two buses are equipped to recharge while driving over this roadway; the OLEV buses have coils on their underside to pick up power through the electromagnetic field on the road.

inductive energy transfer for electric buses both while parked (static charging) and while moving (dynamic charging). Bombardier is currently implementing a 200kW system for electric buses in Bruges, Belgium as well as in Braunschweig, Mannheim and Berlin in Germany. On the automotive side, the PRIMOVE team reports that it can offer its technology at three levels of charging power: 3.6kW, 7.2kW and 22kW.

Meanwhile in the United States, Utah State University has built an EV, roadway research facility and test track that uses wireless inductive power transfer pads embedded underneath the roadway. The installation allows EVs to charge while they are in motion. The facility, called EVR (for electric vehicle and roadway) has capacity for 750 kW of power with AC-to-track and DC-to-track provisions. Construction of the test track and lab building is complete with equipment, including a dynamometer for testing vehicle capabilities in place. Utah State’s EVR should be fully operational in the fall of 2015.

Ambitious UK Trials

One of the most ambitious trials may be in the UK where the government agency Highways England has announced plans to carry out test track trials of a wireless road-embedded EV charging technology. The trials will involve fitting vehicles with wireless technology and testing the equipment installed underneath the road. The trials are expected to last for approximately 18 months and, subject to the results, could be followed by tests on existing motorways. Additional details of the trials will be made available when a successful contractor has been appointed.

The upcoming trial follows a feasibility study conducted by Highways England that examined how wireless charging infrastructure might be installed in the country’s major roads. Two different example layouts for DWPT systems were investigated in the study:

Individual power transfer segments up to 8m in length would be combined into power transfer sections of up to 50m long (consisting of four segments with gaps between each segment). Up to two segments can be energized in any given 50m section. Power transfer was set up to 40kW for light vehicles and up to 100kW for buses, trucks or other heavy-duty vehicles. Each 50m segment could supply two vehicles with power.
Individual power transfer segments would be created up to 40m long. A gap of around 5m would be placed between adjacent segments. Each 40m segment could supply power to one vehicle. Power transfer was limited to 40kW for light vehicles and to 140kW for buses or trucks.

The Highways England analysis showed that under different traffic conditions—and using an assumed scenario for vehicle and technology penetration—average demand could be as high as 500kVA (0.5MVA) per mile. When use of the system fell short of the maximum value, the expected demand was found to be similar across both layouts. The number and length of segments under these conditions would not have an impact on total power demand, the study showed, as the number of power transfer segments that can be occupied is limited by the number of vehicles on the road. Power demand from the second layout example was found to be slightly higher than from the first example due to the higher power transfer capability for heavy-duty vehicles.

While the study concluded that systems with shorter coil lengths (up to 10m) are likely to be safer and better able to cope with higher utilization, different coil lengths will be investigated during the trials to understand the variability and implications on safety.

Highway England also considered three types of road construction for DWPT, including trench-based constructions (where a trench is excavated in the roadway for installation of the DWPT primary coils), full-lane reconstruction (where the full depth of roadway is removed, the primary coils installed and the lane is resurfaced), and full-lane pre-fabricated construction (where the full roadway is removed and replaced by pre-fabricated full-lane width sections containing the complete in-road system).

Both of the first two methods were found to be viable. The study concluded that the full lane pre-fabricated method is likely to be prohibitively expensive, although further investigation is required as this is a relatively new construction technique. The upcoming trials are expected to offer more data for all three proposed construction methods.

Wireless power transfer tech: Trials set for England’s offroads

Wireless charging technology that is built into the road, powering electric cars as they move, is to undergo trials on England’s offroads. Announced on Tuesday, the technology will address the need to power up electric and hybrid vehicles on England’s roads. The trials will get under way later this year.

Key questions that the trial will address: will the technology work safely and effectively? How will the tech allow drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles to travel longer distances without needing to stop and charge the car’s battery?

The announcement referred to “dynamic wireless power transfer” technologies where cars are recharged while on the move.

Transport Minister Andrew Jones said that the government is already committing £500 million over the next five years to keep Britain at the forefront of this technology. The trials will involve fitting vehicles with wireless technology and testing the equipment, installed underneath the road, to replicate motorway conditions.

These are offroad trials and are expected to last for approximately 18 months. Subject to the results, they could be followed by on-road trials.

Highways England, the government-owned company in place for managing the core road network in England, had already commissioned a feasibility study for preparing a strategic road network for electric vehicles. TRL, a research, consultancy, testing and certification group for transport, was commissioned to look into Wireless Power Transfer (WPT) technology for use on motorways and roads to prepare for greater EV take-up.

TRL made the point at that time that “the purpose of the project is not to find an alternative to current plug-in charging infrastructure but rather to develop a comprehensive charging eco-system capable of delivering power to EVs via different methods.”

TRL added, “This is to facilitate greater and more flexible use of EVs in the UK, overcome range anxiety and allow switching to zero emission vehicles for vehicle types which have traditionally been accepted as not suitable for electrification, e.g. HGVs and coaches.”

To be sure, range anxiety has been one of the talked about factors challenging future uptake of EVs. Brian Milligan said in BBC News earlier this year, though, that figures from the UK car industry suggested “we might finally be waking up to the electric revolution.” He noted a jump in purchases of plug-in hybrids and that there were many more plug-in models to chose from; he also noted a network of charging points had expanded, in places in the UK where drivers can plug in.

Meanwhile, in the United States, “Some of the factors contributing to the relatively fast adoption of electric vehicles (EV) in some American metropolitan markets have been identified and characterized by a new study from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT),” reported Clean Technica. The dominant factors included, among others, a broader range of offerings, as well as a more developed charging infrastructure.


Zero-Pollution Buses Emerge With Backing From Silicon Valley

by Chris Martin


An all-electric bus made by Kleiner Perkins-backed Proterra Inc. Source: Proterra via Bloomberg

Buses that neither belch pollution nor draw on coal power are starting to appear on city streets, with the support of Silicon Valley and a company backed by Warren Buffett.

Over the next six months, Seattle is rolling out two all-electric buses made by Kleiner Perkins-backed Proterra Inc. The city gets 95 percent of its electricity from renewables, mostly hydroelectric dams that don’t use fossil fuels. So charging the fleet won’t increase emissions.

The trials, replicated in Dallas, San Antonio and Worcester, Massachusetts, show that battery-powered buses can move people more quietly and cheaply than traditional diesel models. While cities for years have embedded hydrogen and natural-gas vehicles in their fleet, the electric bus fueled by renewables holds the promise of delivering transport for the masses without damaging the atmosphere.

“We’re pushing to get as green as we can,” said George Stites, supervisor of fleet services for King County Metro, which runs Seattle’s transit system.

“Battery buses are where hybrid buses were 10 years ago. We’ll only buy hybrids or all-electric buses going forward. There will be significant fuel cost savings. We expect it to be a lot cheaper over its life.”

Musk, Bus

While all-electric sports cars from Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. have grabbed headlines and the attention of the public, it’s buses that are in many ways better suited for the technology. The girth of the bus can more easily absorb heavy battery units, and running them on set routes means charging cycles can be planned in advance.

Lesser known companies such as BYD Co., backed by Buffett, along with Proterra and New Flyer Industries Inc. dominate the nascent electric bus industry. New Flyer has gained more than 20 percent over the past year in Toronto. BYD, based in Shenzhen, China, has slipped 28 percent in the past year in Hong Kong.

City transit managers have long been ahead of the curve on replacing diesel vehicles. More than 41 percent of bus fleets were using battery, fuel-cell and hybrid technologies at the start of this year compared with just 2.1 percent of autos, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Leading Way

“We’re leading the way with electric buses the same way we have with other alternative fuels,” said Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based industry group. Those figures include hybrids and natural gas buses as well as all-electric.

Still, the benefits of all-electric buses may be limited. Only 2.5 percent of U.S. commuters use buses, compared with 76 percent who use their cars.

Recent battery improvements have made the new buses cheaper than diesel, with both lower lifetime fuel and maintenance costs. By 2020, 59 percent of the world’s transit buses will be electric hybrids and 12 percent will be all electric, according to analysts Frost & Sullivan.

Chicago Transit Authority expects two electric buses it bought from New Flyer Industries will each save $300,000 in fuel costs and $660,000 in public health costs over their 12-year expected runs. That more than makes up for the $500,000 premium over the diesel buses that the electric ones replaced. They can run for 100 miles — a full day’s work — before needing to recharge overnight. CTA operates about 1,800 buses.

‘Most Sense’

“Electric drive trains make the most sense in heavier vehicles,” said Michael Linse, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins that made early investments in Proterra. “Hybrids get a third of the market now and they’re just marginally better and very expensive at $650,000 to $700,000. It was almost all diesel 10 years ago.”

BYD, the Chinese automaker partly owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., projected it will sell as many as 200 electric buses in the U.S. this year after securing an order from Long Beach, California. The company has sold more than 5,000 of the electric buses globally, including 50 in in the U.S. BYD plans to sell about 6,000 electric buses this year.

Charging Time

Their 60-foot-long bus can carry 120 passengers 190 miles on a single charge. Long Beach is adding wireless charging system at one stop, where each bus can get enough juice for to go another four miles during the seven minutes it takes customers to board.

Electric buses cost more initially than diesel. Savings come over time with lower fuel and maintenance costs, said Michael Austin, a vice president at BYD in New York. The high entry cost has stunted demand from transit agencies because capital spending decisions are made separately from operations.

“It can be hard for them to see the lower total cost of ownership,” Austin said in an interview. “If you look over the lifetime you get at least $500,000 in savings,” per bus.