Last Monday I had the opportunity to attend an interesting round table organized by several student clubs at IE Business School with Joaquín Bellido, the head of the Spanish division of BYD, the company that produces more electric buses in the world, which I wrote about a few months ago.
BYD is a fascinating company: founded by Wang Chuanfu, a chemist born into a humble family in Shenzen and who is now one of the richest people in China, it also owns lithium mines and other rare earths necessary for the manufacture of batteries. The name of the company is an acronym for Build Your Dreams, and its slogan, “The official sponsor of Mother Nature” is registered. Its newest battery factory, opened last year, is one of the largest in the world and makes lithium-ferrophosphate (LFP) batteries, which while less common, are ideal for buses due to their chemical and thermal stability, which makes them safer. The company also has several subsidiaries that make smartphone batteries, as well as cars and driverless monorail trains.
Despite being the ideal urban transportation solution, implementation has been slow and at the present rate, only 60% of buses around the world will be electric powered by 2050. The reason we don’t see more of them on the roads is that they cost around twice as much as a conventional bus, along with the need to build special recharging infrastructure. But in terms of total cost, electric buses are superior due to the lower maintenance they require and their reduced operating costs. The world’s pioneer city is Shenzen, home to the headquarters and the main factory of BYD, and which has a fleet of 16,000 fully electric buses. If you want an the idea of what 16,000 buses looks like, this video of the delivery of the fleet in 2016 that Joaquín used to open his presentation, gives an idea:
Shenzen has about 12.5 million inhabitants. In contrast, New York, with 8.4 million, has a fleet of 5,800 buses, and Madrid, with 3.2 million, has 2,050, of which only 1.76% are electric. Public transport is fundamental to the future of urban transport and buses are the logical evolution, along with other vehicles such as trains or trams. California has announced its intention to convert the state’s bus fleet by 2029. Currently, 17% of the world’s buses, a total of 425,000, are electric, and the vast majority of them, as much as 99%, operate in Chinese cities.
There’s also been an innovative development in Indianapolis, where BYD and Momentum Dynamics have set up IndyGo, a system of 300kWh inductive charging points: each time a bus reaches an inductive charger, located at endpoints of the route, the battery automatically receives a charging boost enabling the vehicle to continue along the route. Inductive charging is considered one of the best ways to avoid the problems of load cycles and downtime. The system means vehicles can be kept in service on a route much longer than most electric buses’ current operating range of around 360 kilometers.
Some cities looking to transition their fleet from highly polluting diesel to cleaner options, have mistakenly opted for natural gas, a strategic error considering the ecological certification of this fuel, along with the evolution of its cost, which makes it less and less competitive compared to clean energy. Santiago de Chile, which recently placed an order for a hundred electric buses, seems to understand the future and the importance of removing diesel buses from its roads: buses usually make up around 5% of vehicles, while generating a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions, 40% of nitrogen oxide and more than half of particle emissions, typically in areas with the highest population density. We will see if our cities are up to the task.
(En español, aquí)