by Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman, IDTechEx
Buses are very important. Injuries and deaths from two wheelers have not reduced very much in decades whereas vehicles with four wheels or more have seen huge improvements. Nevertheless, because 70% of us will soon live in cities with that figure rising to 80% in 2050, car sales will peak as they are increasingly discouraged then banned from cities because of the congestion and parking space they need.
Peak car will be 2030 according to IDTechEx Research, earlier in the view of Barclays Research which cites how the millennials and increasingly others prefer mobility on demand. That includes rental of a car from the roadside by people who do not see it as a status symbol and those wanting to tap their phone all the time hop on a bus. Add to that people who cannot or will not take a driving test and autonomous taxis, often a form of autonomous car, become very attractive and certain to be encouraged in cities. 20 cars used 3% of the time can be replaced by one autonomous taxi used 60% of the time that trundles outside the city when not in use, a vision prompting a recent children’s book, Where Do Cars Go At Night?
Buses will be key: The future bus, subway and train are even more important than those autonomous taxis. China has found that the 140 million people going to work on electric bikes and scooters cause a lot of accidents, congestion and lead pollution as some irresponsibly dispose of the batteries that need changing every year. It is strongly backing pure electric buses to the extent that the largest value market for large lithium-ion batteries last year was buses not cars. A large bus uses one seventh of the energy and one tenth of the space of a car per passenger kilometre. IDTechEx Research calculates that 2,3 million electric buses will be made in 2027, about five times those made in 2016 but taking many very new forms as they are reinvented.
Autonomous and multi-purpose: The driverless autonomous bus will be popular, with no user push back because we readily happily climb into driverless trains at airports already – even driverless pods at Heathrow Airport London where that technology is now being upgraded to create free-running autonomous buses. The robot bus and taxi may merge sometimes by running a route at full occupancy to help regular buses at peak times then reverting to on-demand taxi service.
New components, straddling bus technology: Small batteries may suffice with intermittent catenary charging like that being trialled in three countries for long distance trucks today. Certainly pure electric will win not the less efficient, less reliable fuel cells even if they eventually get green hydrogen and capture some niches.
Double decker and straddling buses will be popular to cope efficiently with all those new passengers and they will have more spare space due structural electronics rather than the old components-in-a-box approach to powertrains. Think in-wheel motors (BYD already has near wheel, eliminating a big axle. Nicola plans six in-wheel motors for large trucks) and composite bodywork that makes and stores electricity (Proterra already has composite bodywork and the next Chinese straddling buses will carry 1 000 and get maybe 20 kW for a huge solar roof). The bloodletting from buses crashing over potholes from London to Calcutta will cease with Levant Power active suspension elegantly making its own electricity from 12 kW or more of energy harvesting shock absorbers.
Energy independent buses: Feather light, conformal, highest-efficiency photovoltaics will be all over the bus and even expand outwards and across windows when the bus is not in use making an increasing number of buses into Energy Independent Vehicles EIV, pure electric and never plugging in. Fantasy? Not at all. You can already buy an eight seater EIV and bus from Nanowinn Technologies in China with advanced CIGS photovoltaics and super-efficient powertrain, large buses in Uganda get a high proportion of their electricity from the searing sun hitting their solar roofing. Indeed, Hanergy in China has just demonstrated EIV cars using the most efficient lightweight solar of all – gallium arsenide film it makes itself. Hanergy says they will be on sale in 2020 and generate over 1 kW per car, plenty to charge the battery even for night time use in urban duty. The cost has to drop from $1 million per car but the Chinese are good at that. Meanwhile IFEVS in Italy has made a solar pizza van that can go anywhere and even cook using electricity from its roof and lifting solar sides and a large telescopic wind turbine that erects when it is stationary, following others having little erecting turbines on cars.
Reinventing bus layout: Tesla plans something driverless like a bus they say. Perhaps the sides, front and back will lift to get passengers onto seats faster from all directions because Tesla seems to imply it would have no aisle. There is much more happening.
Structural electronics: Toyota and others are developing structural electronics inside the vehicle such as voided 3D printed seats grown with their sensors, heaters and coolers and covered in smart fabric. Hanergy has GaAs solar on the dashboard to power internal hotel facilities and TactoTek is seeing its smart plastic lighting, electronics and actuators combined replacing the load-bearing, impact-resistant dashboard and overhead clusters.
Lizard buses: You can buy the Nanowinn bus without a battery so it is not only much more affordable, it wakes up with minimal daylight and still goes faster than walking pace because it is more lightweight. Of course, it will need maintenance much less often and it will last much longer.
Losers and winners: There will be losers of course. The heavy ladder type of chassis will go. Businesses in hybrid and conventional buses, steel, oil, charging stations, lead acid batteries, brushed motors, silicon power components, internal combustion engines, hybrid and conventional powertrains and allied activities such as most maintenance and parts businesses will become losers, many within the decade. Bus drivers will be needed less often.
Winners will include those in energy harvesting and regeneration, silicon carbide and gallium nitride power components, affordable long life high efficiency, high power density motors, in-wheel motors, merged systems, fast chargers, inductive chargers, structural electronics, tires that generate electricity if they prove viable, range extenders for a while, advanced supercapacitors and their derivatives, non-flammable, high energy density batteries, the connected vehicle, specialty autonomy hardware and autonomy software and services.
China resurgent: China will win by making commoditised electronic and electrical bus hardware and buses costing one third to one half of the cost of those abroad due to its automation, innovation and volume in the protected Chinese market that is at least four times that of the rest of the world put together, amplified by a mandatory shorter bus replacement time and the Chinese plan to grow and electrify the school bus fleet possibly to hit the 10 million mark. China will be able to flood the world with low cost buses just as it has done with electronic wristwatches and much else besides. All over the world, they are setting up final assembly operations and, where necessary, more to claim local manufacture for pure electric buses.
Copyright: philipus / 123RF Stock Photo