Features & Interviews

Repower to the people: Converting vehicles from diesel to electric

11 May 2023 #Features & Interviews

Repowering technology that replaces diesel engines with battery electric powertrains has huge potential to enable operators to accelerate the transition of their fleets to zero emissions.

It also means that instead of scrapping a whole vehicle, the body and systems can effectively be recycled, bringing massive environmental gains.

With each conversion coming in at less than half the price of a new EV, and with many vehicles expected to remain in service for 14 years or beyond, operators can also make significant financial savings by repowering a vehicle halfway through its working life.

Early in 2022, Snetterton, Norfolk-based Equipmake was awarded a contract by First Bus to fully convert 12 Optare Versa buses from existing EV Generation One systems to its zero emission drivetrain (ZED).

This year it has also expanded its electrification offering to the coach sector, collaborating with London-based Westway Coaches to convert a proportion of its existing diesel vehicles to electric power.

Each repower is tailored to specific operator requirements, with service routes simulated to ensure the correct battery power level is selected for optimum performance and efficiency, and to guarantee driving ranges of 150 to 250 miles.

Equipmake has also been working with operator Metroline to completely replace a New Routemaster double-decker bus hybrid drivetrain with its own ZED, which uses 95% British-built component content.

Pre-service trials have already started in London, and the repowered New Routemaster features a 400kWh battery enabling an expected in-service range of 150 miles.

Seamlessly integrated into the prop shaft without the need for a separate transmission, the motor is precisely engineered to meet the demanding requirements of a fully-laden double decker bus by producing 3,500Nm torque at a motor speed of just 1,000rpm and delivering 400kW maximum power.

Ian Foley, CEO of Equipmake, said: “Repowering is a vital, cost-effective transitionary technology that can bridge the gap between diesel and a new electric bus fleet.

“London is leading the way in the adoption of green technologies for large commercial vehicles and as TfL continues to evaluate a range of clean technologies, we are confident our repower systems can play a rapid role in accelerating any zero-emission vehicle strategy.”

Meanwhile, bus repower company Kleanbus, based in Scarborough, has completed the development of its first advanced modular electric platform, installing the system into its first prototype vehicle, an Optare Solo.

Combining proven e-powertrain components from leading Tier 1 suppliers with Kleanbus’ own integration technology and proprietary software, Kleanbus’ ‘e-drivetrain in a box’ can quickly and cost-effectively convert a conventionally fuelled single or double decker bus into a fully electric vehicle.

The company is accelerating its prototype testing programme, with development taking place at its facility in the east of England, as well as entering pilot trials with key bus fleet operators.

From its 9,000 sq ft facility, the Kleanbus repower programme consists of a full base vehicle evaluation and analysis of operator duty cycles, allowing a conceptual drivetrain to be modelled and validated through simulation.

When the e-drivetrain solution has been designed and tested, it takes less than two weeks to repower an individual bus, and operating costs are also dramatically lower, at a third of those of a conventional diesel bus.

Joe Tighe, Co-Founder and CEO of Kleanbus, said: “Leveraging the latest in proven components from leading Tier 1s, our technology agnostic solution enables us to create an adaptable system that can convert a diesel bus into a state-of-the-art zero emission vehicle quickly and cost effectively.

“Kleanbus also provides the complete solution to bus operators, with innovative financing and charging as part of the total package, making it easy to go zero emission.

“The potential for repowering is huge: lower operating costs for bus operators and accelerating the transition to a clean future.”

Waste management company Biffa, and vehicle electrification business Lunaz, are also combining expertise to give Biffa trucks a new lease of life by replacing diesel engines with electric.

This multi-year production programme will see an initial order of up to ten 26-tonne Upcycled Electric Vehicle (UEV) refuse trucks, and, following the successful completion of technical trials and due diligence, first deliveries will take place for operations on UK refuse collection routes in 2023.

Lunaz’s home in Silverstone, England has a capacity to up-cycle more than 1,110 industrial vehicles every year.

“By finding new life for diesel-emitting vehicles, we are delighted to stand together with a leading UK company in creating the potential to reduce global emissions at scale,” said David Lorenz, Founder & CEO of Lunaz.

In addition, Rotherham-based Magtec has been supporting technical professional services firm Jacobs in helping the British Army convert some of its vehicles to hybrid electric drive.

Tests have been carried out at Millbrook proving ground by Magtec’s engineering team, to see whether hybrid versions of the MAN Support Vehicle (SV), can make the Army’s vehicle fleet more capable with a lower operating carbon footprint.

As part of the tests, the vehicles have kept their diesel engines and there is no change to the suspension, armour, controls, payload volume, or the engine and fuelling.

However, the gearbox and the drivetrain have been replaced with a generator, batteries battery management system, power electronics and electric motors.

Tim McCarthy, a Senior Systems Engineering Consultant at Jacobs, said: “Unlike existing models powered solely by diesel engines, hybrid vehicles can also be used on or close to the frontline as power sources for forward operating bases, air defence radar, field hospitals and other intelligence and electronic applications.

“Hybrid vehicles are quieter and so more stealthy for special operations, have faster acceleration, better fuel economy and increase range. As well as improved off-road performance, they’re more reliable and less likely to break down.”

As operators increasingly look for a rapid low-cost transition to electrify their fleets, a repower programme provides a fast, affordable solution, and one that is environmentally friendly.

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