Can you convert a regular bus into an electric bus?

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Of course you can, and they did it in Boulder. From the Boulder News,

What’s 30-feet long, bright orange and runs on electricity? Boulder’s newest old bus, the first in its fleet to go fossil fuel-free, courtesy of a Front Range company specializing in conversions that are both cheaper and faster than buying brand new.

Via Mobility Services, which operates the HOP line for the city of Boulder, commissioned and paid for Bus No. 15 to be stripped of its non-functional diesel engine and outfitted with an electric power train. Lightning Systems of Loveland performed the retrofit; Longmont’s UQM Technologies provided the electric motor The process cost $260,000 and took roughly four months.

The bus plugs in overnight; one charge powers a full day’s route.

Everybody needs to do this now.

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20 thoughts on “Can you convert a regular bus into an electric bus?

  1. Metro Transit has 514 diesel buses.

    So that would be about 133 million dollars at 260k per bus.

    I wonder how many batteries per bus? How much do they weight? How often do you need to replace them (every 10 years like a car)?

    I wonder how much the battery replacement cost over 10 years plus the cost of electricity to charge the batteries every day compares to the cost of diesel fuel over 10 years?

    I would bet they would have to roll this out over several years, due to the cost and missing the bus for 4 months for the retrofit.

    I think 133 million is a little more than a third of Metro annual revenue of 325 ish million.

    I wonder how much of a fare increase that would represent? I don’t know how much of their revenue comes from these 514 buses.

    I am sure it could be done if people are willing to pay.

    1. All interesting questions, and there are in fact answers. Off the top of my head, a study was done a few years ago that compared the purchase of a new electric bus, and its use over time, with a traditional fuel bus. The electric bus cost a lot more to buy, but between the cheaper fuel and much lower maintenance,not counting external costs (see below for that), they were about the same.

      Since then, electric buses have gotten cheaper and more efficient.

      Replacing a fleet of traditional fueled buses might be cost prohibitive, but making sure all new buses are electric would work. In the case of the experiment tried here, that could be a way of moving the highest maintenance machines out of the way faster. Retrofitting would probably go down somewhat in cost. Ideally, though, we want made-for-use eBuses.

      Meanwhile, consider this: It was recently calculated that if all the Minnesota school buses happened to be electric, and those batteries were plugged into the grid during down time, it would be the equivalent of building a 500 megawatt power plant that could be used from mid June through Labor Day for free.

      That is an external savings. Now look at external cost. Climate change. The end of civilization as we know it could be costly.

  2. Greg:

    I am not sure we can build enough batteries to power all the electric cars and buses:

    I am not against electric vehicles, but we have to analyze the costs and the benefits.

    How many batteries wold we need for a global supply for all vehicles?

    The article I cite above says:

    “Meanwhile, there is still no environmentally safe way of recycling lithium-ion batteries.”

    Is that true? I don’t know.

    When you compare the end of civilization to things like child labor, shortages of cobalt and lithium and the problem with recycling all these batteries – well – there is really no comparison. If we are really facing the end of civilization. I take that claim with a big grain of salt.

    Definitely something to think about.

    I think we will need some better, greener and more available battery technology – which I am sure some people are working on. So I imagine that over time, we will switch to an almost totally electrified vehicle, bus and transportation of goods system.

    We might need a lot of nuclear power plants to charge up all those batteries.

    In your example above, if all the buses are plugged in to recharge after they usage during the day, that will put a big drain on the grid right at dark. What if it isn’t windy? Might need some baseload power that doesn’t produce carbon.

    I am sure it will all work out as millions of people, business and governments make economic decisions.

    1. The next generation of these batteries will not use cobalt. Prototypes already exist. That won’t be an issue.

    2. There is a bit of chatter that suggests a safe way to recycle some ( or most? )automotive
      Lithium batteries is to massively extend their working life by repurposing them as grid or home storage after they are deemed to not be fit for automotive requirements.

      Hahahaha. As I was writing this very short paragraph I was interrupted by a lost solar panel installer looking for a neighbour!
      Rooftop solar is getting very popular now in Australia.

    3. If we are really facing the end of civilization. I take that claim with a big grain of salt.

      Only because you keep the scientific evidence and its implications at bay behind a thick wall of denial.

    4. “massively extend their working life by repurposing them as grid or home storage after they are deemed to not be fit for automotive requirements.”

      This is Tesla’s long-term strategy.

  3. Recycling lithium ion batteries is not a technological challenge. It is more of an economic one. They are not worth recycling, especially the newer cobalt free variety, which will not have that valuable element in them.

    (Also,by the way, lithium is not rare. It is just a bit nasty because it is mined by miners, and all miners are messed up horrid nefarious humans, it would seem.)

    We simply need to develop infrastructure and a system for recycling them.

  4. Electric buses make a lot more sense than private ownership of EVs. I very much doubt that personal vehicle ownership on the current scale is going to survive any serious energy transition. It’s probably materially unsustainable as well.

    1. BBD, I fully disagree. They both make sense. Of course, public transit should be more widely deployed and used more widely, but I prefer to stay away from either-or situations.

      In the US the vast majority of individuals who we expect to live an average of another 30 years or so are simply never going to give up their cars. They must switch to electric, and that will happen when, finally, that is all you can get.

      The next generation coming up now is more likely to prefer city life and public transit, and either not own a car or use one rarely. That transition is, I’m afraid, one that cant’ be forced in our society, but maybe it can be encouraged.

    2. In the US the vast majority of individuals who we expect to live an average of another 30 years or so are simply never going to give up their cars. They must switch to electric, and that will happen when, finally, that is all you can get.

      Actually Greg, I think we’re on the same page. I know the average European/American/etc. car owner alive today won’t give up the personal ownership. But when I talk about the ‘serious’ energy transition – 80% decarbonisation of electricity supply – that would be approaching 2050 and beyond, which keys with the 30yr timescale.

      After that, things will probably have to change for reasons of energy supply and material sustainability. And of course, the trend towards urbanisation will help, as you say. It’s going to be very different, down the road.

  5. MIght be more practical to convert these busses to use “electrofuels” hydrogen, methane, ammonia as per this article
    Also, hard to predict what the future of batteries will be “Ten years left to redesign lithium-ion batteries”
    I haven’t yet seen that lithium-ion batteries are recyclable today, not sure what the future holds, but challenges exist that may or may not be solved “The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction”

    1. Batteries are well along the way to be redesigned. There will be cobalt out of batteries in far less than ten years.

      Lithium batteries are recyclable. The process of recycling them does not, at this time, make money. It costs money. By modern libertarian free-market worship standards, that means they can’t be recycled. But hey can be.

  6. Greg, can you share any articles that support your claims, because if you read the article I linked to from Wired of August 2018, it does not support your recycling claims (regardless of finances, it is actually technical challenges). If fact, it contradicts your claims.

    1. Todd, the problems in recycling lithium batteries is economic, not technical. The article you cite confirms this, but gives few details. On problem that article mentions is that manufacturers are not forthcoming about the contents of the batteries, making it much harder to recycle. That is not a technical problem.

      I’m sure one could view the expense as a technical barrier, in the sense that the technology does not allow it to be cheap, but lithium batteries can be recycled.

      At this point, the lithium part of this is an addressable problem. It is unclear to me how nickle will play out. Cobalt will be taken out of the equation.

  7. I’m not one for predictions like you are, Greg, what is that saying “predictions are difficult, especially about the future”? I do agree that batteries will likely improve in several ways in the future, just how much and by when, who knows. I believe we should be also pursuing other ways to fuel transportation that is near zero emissions, along with batteries, for example, “combating climate change with ammonia-fueled vehicles” (many uncertainties here, I would assume, but still gotta try, in my opinion).

    1. Tod, I absolutely refuse to get in to the predictions game when it comes to the energy transition. So, your first statement is simply untrue. The transition to non-cobalt lithium batteries is well underway. I follow the literature fairly closely. This is not a pie in the sky breakthrough technology. I’m very careful about that.

      I don’t actually expect battery performance to improve at orders of magnitude levels, but presumably single digit percentage level, maybe, in various ways.

      Also, I think that while storage will always be important, and will be extra important over the next few years, I see a totally different solution taking up most of the variation.

      Thanks for the link. Ammonia may well be on the list of the small number of technologies we’ll use where burning solid or liquid substances rather than electricity work best!

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