In order to combat the effects of ever-rising fuel prices and air polluting
carbon dioxide emissions, it is critical to begin integrating alternative fuel
choices in public transportation, experts agreed at a seminar on
Israeli and international experts from various public
transportation fields convened on Monday at the Holon Institute of Technology,
for a conference entitled “Electric Buses and Natural Gas-Based Transportation”
– organized jointly by the institute, the Alternative Fuels Administration of
the Prime Minister’s Office, the Transportation Ministry and the Industry, Trade
and Labor Ministry.
While electric buses may not yet be economically
feasible en masse, in future years they will become increasingly so – and until
then, many other financially and environmentally friendly solutions exist around
the world, the experts explained.
The seminar comes the day after the
Israeli government approved a plan drafted by Eyal Rosner at the Alternative
Fuels Administration, which mandates that the years 2013 to 2025 become a
transition period for Israel’s shift to non-petroleum based transportation
sources. More specifically, the program’s goal is to reduce the oil in Israel’s
transportation sector by 30% by 2020 and by 60% by 2025.
beginning we will be focused more on the natural gas derivatives, like methanol
and CNG, but as time goes by we will see other solutions like electric vehicles
and biofuels,” Rosner said at the conference.
While there is “no optimal
solution yet” as to which type of fuel public transportation companies should be
using in their systems, they do currently have many choices – diesel, biodiesel,
CNG, diesel hybrid, electric overhead cables for trolleys, hydrogen fuel cells,
fastloading small electric batteries and slow-loading big electric batteries,
explained Ruud Bouwman, director of the Netherlands-based firm Advanced Public
Transportation Systems (APTS).
Perhaps the biggest barrier toward fully
integrating electric vehicles in the transportation sector is the battery that
powers the vehicles, many experts said. The large size, the expensive cost, the
accompanying infrastructure and the necessity to recharge frequently are all
obstacles to the electric bus’s widespread entrance into the global public
An average hybrid bus costs around $200,000 and an
electric bus even more – both much higher than prices for typical diesel buses,
explained Eyal Solomon, of the Alternative Fuels Section in the Motor Vehicles
and Maintenances Services Department at the Transportation Ministry.
biggest challenge for electric driving technologies is the cost premium over a
conventional bus or a CNG bus,” Solomon said. “This premium is maintained in
In order to even pay off the cost of the vehicle itself,
hybrid buses need to show a fuel economy savings of 40%, Solomon added. That
being said, because the costs will eventually come down, the Transportation
Ministry is acting to promptly carry out the necessary standards and
infrastructure for the import of electric vehicles, he continued. Already, the
ministry has approved six hybrid buses for Haifa’s future bus rapid transit BRT
system, according to Solomon.
Developments on electrical vehicles and
their batteries are moving so fast, however, that within five years it may be
possible to drive them at the same price as diesel buses, Bouwman
“A hybrid vehicle is always a good idea to use, independent of
which fuel we use,” said Ulf Gustafsson, from Volvo Buses in
Despite the expensive nature of the hybrid buses, Volvo has been
able to sell them to 20 different countries, as they reduce carbon dioxide
emissions by 75 to 80%, Gustafsson explained.
In addition to developing
hybrid buses, Volvo has also sold 800 fully electric buses in China.
there are still a number of hurdles to be overcome until we have a system of
electric buses that is good enough,” Gustafsson said.
“We don’t want to
transport batteries, we want to transport passengers.”
The Israeli public
transportation company Dan has purchased fully electric buses from Chinese firm
BYD (Build Your Dreams) imported by Clal Motors, which will begin trials on Tel
Aviv city roads soon. While the battery has a long life of 6,000 cycles, the
battery alone and its charger cost around $400,000 and has a charging time of
These buses can travel 250 kilometers without recharging,
according to Clal Motors CEO Doron Vadai.
While Yossi Cohen, head of the
technical department at Egged, said he is not against electric buses in
principal, he stressed that there are certainly disadvantages to employing them
“It’s possible to reduce buses to zero emissions, but then none
of them would run,” Cohen said, noting, however, that Egged does also have a
plan to test out a BYD bus in the future.
Looking at an entirely
different type of electric buses, the German company Vossloh Kiepe is creating a
new generation of trolley buses, electric buses that are connected to catenaries
– overhead wires. A trolley bus can be optimal due to its excellent climbing
abilities as well as its minimal vibration and overall cleanliness, said Erik
Lenz, from Vossloh Kiepe.
While many actually view the overhead wires as
an advantage with its constant visual presence in public areas, there are
certain situations where the cables are not optimal – such as in parks or
historical sites, according to Lenz. The company is therefore in the process of
developing a “catenary-free” operation, where supercapacitors would recharge
extremely quickly as passengers board at bus stops, he explained.
Systems in Israel is in the process of creating a similar system, where
supercapacitors are “supercharging” at bus stops in 20 to 25 seconds, said Erez
Schreiber, senior director of the energy and power department there. Each bus
would cost only about $100,000 and would only need minimal infrastructure, he
“In this case we could have all the advantages of electric
buses,” Schreiber added.