The future is electric!

June 09 2017

By Yves Provencher, Business Development Director – Transport

We hear this phrase more and more often from experts and politicians. What’s changed in a year since Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition 29 (EVS29) where PIT Group was at the forefront with the unveiling of the first Calgary airport electric shuttle, which was designed and tested by PIT Group?

The popularity of electric mobility has not waned. Movin’On, an event that took place in Montreal this last June, had its focus on sustainable and intelligent mobility and demonstrated the major public interest for new transportation approaches. Furthermore, PIT Group expertise in electric mobility will again be showcased thanks to the collaboration agreement recently announced for the development of an electric autonomous shuttle adapted to Canadian winter conditions with leading local organizations. (link to article)

The Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition has grown from a forum for just a few dreamers to major event with thousands of participant from all over the world. More and more electric vehicles are driven on our streets, and range anxiety of owners is less and less present, and certainly less and less justified. In fact, the charging station network is constantly growing and the range of electric vehicles is increasing. Of course, the initial cost of electric vehicles remains an obstacle, despite the availability of government subsidies. Electric vehicles often stand out for cost effectiveness. While the purchase price is higher than vehicles that use traditional fuels, energy and maintenance costs are much lower.

In Québec, there is a surprising ecosystem around electric vehicles. While the province doesn’t have any major car manufacturers, niche vehicles are king. There are in fact manufacturers of electric vehicles of all sizes and for all kinds of applications: from small industrial vehicles to urban or school busses, motorcycles, boats and, of course, shuttles.

Last winter, the first Québec-made light truck was used on Montréal’s snow and slush-covered roads. It is a regular gas truck converted to electricity by NORDRESA and operated by Purolator. Starting next year, heavy duty electric trucks made in Québec by Lion Buses will begin operating within the city of Montréal and then expand to offering a route from Montréal to Toronto that pushes the limits of the electric vehicle technology. Montréal-Toronto in a heavy-duty electric truck, how is that possible?

Battery swapping in a Chinese urban transportation system

It is explained by many factors. New electric motors are now powerful and reliable enough to consider heavy truck use. The most important aspect remains the technology that supports batteries and charging systems. Battery chemistry research allows for very big energy quantities to be stored in smaller batteries, at a cost that is increasingly affordable. While electric vehicles could only be driven for a few dozen kilometers only 10 years ago, some vehicles now offer a range greater than 400 km. The same goes for heavy-duty vehicles. Lion Buses now offers electrical buses that can easily drive 120 km. Lion Buses’ future trucks will have a 220 km range. As good as these advancements are, other technologies will play a key role in completing the drive from Montreal to Toronto. This is where another piece of technology evolution comes into play.

Many manufacturers now offer increasingly efficient charging options. There are, of course, quick charging stations, but they still take some valuable time to recharge batteries. Truck drivers leaving Montreal for Toronto won’t want to wait for one hour every 200 km to recharge their batteries. Some other systems are needed.

Battery Swapping

Battery swapping is a concept that has been used successfully for some time. It consists of swapping the dead battery with a fully charged unit and getting back on the road. Chinese systems now allow battery swapping for urban buses in about 5 minutes. This is the type of approach which Lion Buses intends on using.

“Electric Road” in Sweden

Dynamic Charging

Dynamic charging systems can charge vehicles as they are driving. Various systems currently exist: Qualcomm has developed Qualcomm Halo™ WEVC (wireless electric vehicle charging technology), which is currently being tested in France. It is an induction system, built into the road, which can charge vehicles driving at speed.

Siemens is working with truck manufacturers to design electrified “highways”. It consists of a system of catenaries (suspended hanging wires) above highways. Trucks automatically connect as they drive under the wires to charge their batteries. For example, a road could have catenaries on 1 every 5 km. This allows for the number of batteries to be reduced on trucks, which only needs a charge of a few kilometres to drive to the next catenary, provided, of course, that its final destination is close to the last catenary. The challenge for this system is that it is very expensive.

The Société de transport de Montreal has launched on May 25 a very promising system for urban transportation. It is a pantograph system that can charge buses in 5 minutes, giving them sufficient range to drive the entire line. Other intermediate charging systems, called opportunity charging, charges buses at various stations, giving them just enough energy to make it to the next charging station. It aims at finding the best compromise between the cost of charging systems and the number of batteries on board.

“Electric Road” in Sweden

As we have seen, technological advances in terms of battery energy density and new charging systems allow us to approach, with lots of confidence, the transportation of goods over longer and longer distances. In addition, range extenders are being introduced, which allow vehicles to use another fuel when the batteries are depleted. This approach is used by the Chevrolet Volt. TM-4 and Cummins also have just announced a partnership to develop a similar system for heavy vehicles.

PIT Group is at the forefront of technology advancements and actively participates in the development and testing of electric vehicles. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.