A fleet of Australian-made electric buses could soon be trundling along the roads of Australia, the Middle East and Asia, thanks to a team led by Swinburne University of Technology academics and automotive industry experts.
The team launched a concept electric bus at the BusVic expo in Melbourne earlier this year and is working on pre-production of the prototype model, which will be suited to tropical climates. The buses also have the potential to vastly reduce pollution and will be significantly cheaper to run and maintain than the diesel-fuel buses currently on Australia’s roads.
Queensland’s Bustech (part of Transit Australia Group), Port Melbourne’s AutoCRC, and the Malaysia Automotive Institute have all worked closely on the project with the Swinburne team, led by Pro Vice-Chancellor, International Research Engagement, Professor Ajay Kapoor.
Professor Kapoor says there are plans to begin manufacturing electric buses at the Bustech plant on the Gold Coast mid-next year, with some parts made in Malaysia. He says there is strong demand for fleets of e-buses here and overseas.
'Few companies in Australia work in the area of complete bus manufacturing. Those that do are the survivors, so taking a lead in the next generation of technology and making it globally competitive is very feasible,' Professor Kapoor says.
Although the technology exists in the US and Europe, buses manufactured on the Gold Coast, an area known for its high humidity and heat, will be suited to similar conditions and climates in Asia. That makes them more appealing to the Asian market.
'Asia is becoming a very big market for electric buses,' Professor Kapoor says. 'Buses that are made in many other countries may not have the durability for a tropical climate that this manufacturer can offer.'
Swinburne’s partnership with the Malaysia Automotive Institute will provide valuable support for the project and the technology is likely to have strong market appeal to governments in Australia and Asia.
'We are able to apply our skill and knowledge of design and development in the automotive industry to bus manufacturing, and prosper in the Asian market,' Professor Kapoor says.
'From the Malaysian side, the advantage then becomes that the local bus manufacturer, with Swinburne University’s assistance, can develop a world-class product platform ready for next generation technology.
'Since this project is part of the Malaysia Automotive Institute and Malaysia as a country wants to increase the number of electric buses, it becomes very easy for this company to opt in and to start manufacturing some parts there.'
Professor Kapoor says the research and development team, made up of electrical, systems and mechanical engineers, an electrical technician, graduate engineers and apprentice electricians, has worked to solve the challenges of integrating electric vehicle technologies using computer-aided engineering.
The team also designed an energy storage system for the pre-production prototype electric bus. It is made up of nine battery packs that use high-energy density lithium-ion phosphate battery cells.
The battery packs are large enough to completely service an entire route, so there is no need to build expensive infrastructure. This is unlike electric cars, which need to be able to access charging stations on their journey.
Professor Kapoor says exposure to this sort of technology in public transport might encourage more Australians to consider buying electric cars in the future.
While he won’t be drawn on which will be the first place in Australia lucky enough to get its own electric bus, it sounds like Hawthorn in Melbourne could be in the running.
'It’s too early to say whether it will be the Gold Coast, where the manufacturer is, or near Hawthorn where we are, so we can monitor it,' he says. 'Of course, if I get asked, I like Hawthorn.'