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Technology Catches The Bus

26 January 2001

NZ Technology On Board For Quieter, Cleaner Buses

- Ashburton company develops and tests hybrid-powered buses -Trials have been completed in Christchurch and work starts on larger buses - Hong Kong and Japan are showing keen interest

Commuters on smog-choked Hong Kong and Tokyo streets could soon be riding in quiet, low-pollution buses developed in New Zealand.

Following successful trials with a prototype in Christchurch, these two crowded cities are expected to order new hybrid-powered buses to help reduce exhaust emissions. Several New Zealand bus operators are also considering the new low-pollution bus from Ashburton-based designline, which is shaping up as a world leader in hybrid vehicle development.

Designline has just completed the first phase of trials, running three inner city free shuttles in Christchurch and is now working on a larger design suitable for normal bus routes. The trial buses seated 20, with room for a further 16 standing and one wheelchair space.

The company has been working on an electric hybrid bus for the past five years but success came with a breakthrough in technology, with the research work helped by funding from Technology New Zealand, part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The company adopted the newly introduced turbine from Fletcher Energy’s Capstone company and combined it with a new and more efficient battery management system to provide the electric power. The result was a bus with double the range of an earlier technology vehicle, major weight savings through half the number of batteries needed and excellent reliability.

“The new bus has been running around Christchurch streets for the past four months and has given no problems,” says Therese Banks, a consultant to designline. “It has had 99% approval from people who have used the bus and want to see more on the streets. They like the fact that it is clean running and quiet, which means they can easily carry on conversations.”

Among passengers who have travelled on the bus were representatives from the Hong Kong city administration, who want to introduce cleaner and quieter buses to their fleet. Another prototype was also exhibited recently at a transport show in Yokohama by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which is now discussing production versions with designline.

“It’s interesting that New Zealand is showing a country like Japan, which is well regarded for its automotive technology, how to make a vehicle,” adds Ms Banks.

The designline team is confident it will be able to take the technology from the prototypes and transfer it into full-scale single and double-decker buses capable of carrying more than 100 passengers.

The Capstone turbine, rated at 30 kW continuous output, is more than capable of providing sufficient power for larger vehicles. The turbine runs off LPG and mostly provides electricity to the 28 special solid gel German batteries that drive an electric motor.

In testing, the shuttle bus has been able to travel a whole day on electric power, climbing hills and operating powerful air-conditioning with back-up from the turbine. By comparison to the previous diesel-powered technology, the new turbine/electric system has more than doubled the range of the bus to 340km between charges and can deliver performance of 80km/h top speed.

Ms Banks says funding from Technology New Zealand’s TBG scheme enabled the designline team to access the new technology and fine-tune it to their purposes. Through their own engineering developments, they have even been able to almost double the life of the special batteries to almost four years.

As a one-off, the cost of the technology is not cheap, but if sufficient orders can be taken, designline believes it can sell the new hybrid buses for around the same cost as a normal diesel-only bus. In addition to creating little pollution and noise, the new buses will also be cheaper to operate and maintain over the long-term.


For further information contact: - Therese Banks, designline consultant, (03) 349 9844, email -Tony Hadfield, Technology New Zealand at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, 04 917 7812, 025 454 095

Prepared for Technology New Zealand by Jan Sedgwick, Carrara Communications


Administered by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, it has three broad programmes funding a range of technology development activities. 1. Technology for Business Growth (TBG) TBG targets technologically capable firms that want to enter high tech, high value markets. It provides assistance and financial support to companies developing innovative technologies which create new products, processes or services, or which resolve significant technological problems. 2. Technology for Industry Fellowships Formerly the GRIF scheme, renamed. It encourages the application of scientific research skills in business. It enables university students to experience technology in a commercial environment, and help develop links between industry and research institutions. Tertiary student research funding is available for a student to work in a company company under the Fellowship programme. A scholarship or researcher's salary is paid to the student for the agreed duration of the project. 3. TechLink The primary goal of TechLink projects is the advancement of technology used by businesses and should include the successful implementation of that technology within commercial operations.

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