Adomani Flies High After IPO
If you’re one of a growing group that feels that school buses are lagging behind in automotive technological and environmental progress. Electric school buses would be cool, right, but are they practical? So who’s making them?
Adomani sees the future of school buses as electric
How about a company called Bluebird, the number one school bus manufacturer in the country. With the help of Adomani Inc., a California company, Bluebird has added an electric school bus to its repetoire.
Jim Reynolds, president and CEO of Adomani, just led his company through an IPO as a follow-on to the company’s crowd-funding start up. The IPO netted the company $9.2 million. As Reynolds told Clean Fleet Report in a recent interview, the money will be used to take an R&D company to a stage where its technology can be commercialized.
Specifically, the money is being used to develop a new school 72-passenger bus product. Adomani has demonstrated the capability of its technology in various government-sponsored projects, but now hopes to see its products picked as the winner in bids in Southern California. The company is aiming to have the capacity to build 200 buses a year.
The second project Adomani has on its plate is to develop electric drivetrains for Class 6/7/8 products—trucks and transit buses, Class 4/5 cab-over trucks, walk-in delivery vehicles (a market that has already claimed several EV startups) and shuttle buses.
Adomani uses LiFePO4 (lithium-ion phosphate) battery chemistry, but can also source other chemistries. They have developed a system that reuses the original buses’ OEM transmission, cooling system, power steering, air brake system and alternators-12/24-volt systems. That helps keep the electric bus costs down.
Adomani’s yellow buses plug in
Batteries are still the biggest cost in an electric bus, but Adomani can offer school districts two options—increased mileage (beyond the basic 100 miles/day package) or reduced costs.
The company has no sales yet (as of the last quarter)—and it will need them soon to avoid the fate of earlier companies in this segment. Right now Adomani and any others in this end of the business are dependent on government subsidies and mandates to push these vehicles into the market. Adomani is also building a dealer/service network to support the expected sales and is certified to receive incentives from the state of California. The buses themselves have been well-received when they are in place, but also require new infrastructure in many cases.
So in the end what may seem like the obvious next step for school buses is going to take some time, but it’s already started.
School Buses Are Now Green As Well As Yellow
For as long as schools have employed school buses, people have been sitting behind them breathing diesel exhaust fumes and hating their local school district. Some studies have found those fumes even affected kids inside the buses. The risk has been reduced with newer diesel engines, but two North American companies have begun the process to make an even bigger change.
Recently, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Blue Bird, an American bus manufacturer, $4.4 million to develop an electric school bus with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. V2G allows the bus to supply energy back into the electric grid when not shuttling students to and from school.
The magic bus is electric!
This new technology will allow school districts to save money while simultaneously creating a cleaner and healthier environment for their students. Through matching funds and funding from other groups, Blue Bird has obtained a total of almost $9 million and will build a demonstration fleet of eight buses in California by 2019.
Also jumping into the market is Canadian company Lion Bus, who unveiled their eLion electric school bus in Palo Alto recently. The eLion was developed in partnership with the government of Québec (where Lion Bus is based) and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). Adomani, a California company that provides zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles to school and other fleets, signed on to become the exclusive supplier of eLion school buses in the Western U.S. (Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington),
The eLion bus claims its TM4 electric motor provides equal power to the traditional diesel equivalent, and delivers ranges of 50, 75 and 100 miles, depending on the battery configuration.
Lion Bus plans to manufacture the eLion in California as it ramps up production.
Both companies seem to be reacting to a widespread desire for cleaner and more efficient transportation. As health concerns continue to rise, the era of the diesel school bus could be coming to an end.
Plug-in Technology Gets Used to Get Kids to School
Still yellow, but now without a tailpipe
Plug-in hybrids and pure electric passenger cars get the lion’s share of attention here at About.com’s Hybrid & Electric Cars web site. But there is a growing interest in electrified commercial vehicles as well. That includes a vehicle type built for a very important purpose—transporting children to and from school.
The 480,000 school buses in operation that carry 25 million children to school every day makes the collective school bus fleet the largest form of mass transportation in America. Making those buses more fuel efficient would go a long way to not only reduce oil consumption, it would also reduce harmful emissions given that more than half of this fleet is powered by aging diesel engines.
A Silicon Valley firm, Motiv Power Systems, is tackling the issue. Headquartered in Fremont, California, Motiv has teamed with Creative Bus Sales to market a new electric bus design. Called the Starcraft e-Quest XL, the zero-emission school bus will use a Motiv All-Electric Powertrain, a Ford F59 chassis and a body built by Starcraft Bus.
According to Motiv, features of the e-Quest XL bus include passenger capacity of up to 48, a range of up to 85 miles, and 50 percent charge within two hours.
Starcraft Bus is North America’s largest shuttle bus company, and Creative Bus Sales is Starcraft’s top selling dealer. This partnership also includes Chino, California, based Green Alternative Systems, the nation’s largest fleet conversion company. The company converts Ford commercial vehicles to operate on compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane, and now will work with Motiv Power’s electric powertrains as well.
“Developing more options for all-electric school buses offers more opportunities for school districts to reduce harmful pollutants near children, who are especially vulnerable to health impacts from diesel emissions,” said Motiv founder and CEO Jim Castelaz.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Creative Bus Sales to help improve conditions for students’ health, save districts on fuel costs, and support California’s environmental goals.”
A spokesperson for Motiv said that deliveries of the new e-Quest XL are expected to begin this summer (2016).
Not the First Electric School Bus
In 2014 Motiv collaborated with bus manufacturer SST Trans Tech and the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—the regulatory body in charge of the state’s emissions rules—to build two
The kids can board and breathe in the first electric school bus in the U.S.
electric buses for California’s Kings Canyon Unified School District. CARB contributed $400,000 in cost-saving vouchers to the project.
When the first bus entered service, it was billed as the first all-electric school bus operating in the U.S.
The buses are modified SST Trans Tech models based on a Ford E450 van chassis. Motiv’s electric Powertrain Control System (ePCS), battery packs and electric motors were installed to replace the engine and transmission. Available with 80 or 100 miles of range, the SST-e buses can accommodate 25 students, or 18 students with a wheelchair lift and configurable track seating for up to three wheelchairs.
Electric school buses aren’t cheap; the Kings Canyon School District paid $230,000 a pop for the two buses, which is about twice as much as a comparable gasoline- or diesel-powered bus. But electric buses offer long-term savings such as lifelong fuel and maintenance costs, not to mention the reduction of greenhouse gases as well as criteria pollutants like soot.
The two electric buses are estimated to save the school district around 16 gallons of fuel a day, which equates to a total annual savings of $11,000 for each bus. For a school district like Kings Canyon, which serves one of the largest geographical areas in California, those savings are quite significant.
All Motiv-powered vehicles work with the Motiv Universal Fast Charger. This proprietary creation offers higher power than a standard Level 2 charger, but is not as expensive as a DC fast charging station; $3,000 instead of a $30,000-$50,000 fast charger.
Buying new electric school buses is more costly up front than buying traditional diesel or gasoline buses (much as is seen in light-duty vehicles). But, when factors like lower fuel and maintenance costs, along with government incentives and grants, are taken into consideration, these benefits will end up saving school districts money in the long term.
But there is an added benefit to electric school buses: The kids that ride them every day aren’t exposed to the harmful diesel-exhaust emissions of older buses.
Diesel-exhaust emissions are particularly harmful to children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), diesel emissions can lead to allergies, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, heart disease and an increased risk of cancer. A recent study also suggests that lessening bus emissions can have a positive effect on absenteeism.
Tougher emission standards are helping with this, but when older buses need replacing it’s now possible for school districts to move away from diesel and gasoline entirely to emissions-free electric buses. If you want to help, contact your local school district to find out what their transportation plan is and express your interest in electric buses.
To set a good example, when you are waiting at school to pick up your kids from a club meeting or soccer practice, turn off the engine of your car unless you have a plug-in as well.