The recent production run of ZEPS buses by Complete Coach Works for Indianapolis is a major step forward for electric bus operations in the United States. There is now a fleet of economical American-built battery electric buses in operation that may well be a major step into the future. Here is the story behind electric buses, CCW and their ZEPS bus.
The Movement to Electric Buses
It is not at all difficult to understand why there is such high interest in battery electric buses. Virtually at every important point the electric bus comes out ahead of a similar bus powered by fossil fuels. The result is tremendous pressure to move in this direction or at least seriously consider this alternative.
From the ecological standpoint, the electric bus has no exhaust to pollute the air. It not only reduces dependence on foreign oil but it uses electricity from the grid, which often comes from non-polluting or renewable sources.
From the standpoint of service and maintenance, there are some huge advantages to the electric bus. It does not have several of the components that account for a lot of service time and effort with fossil fuel buses. For example, the electric bus has no engine or transmission. It has no engine oil, no transmission fluid and no DEF tank. Brake life and service is improved because of regenerative braking. The reduced vibration on the electric bus reduces service and increases vehicle life.
Cold weather starting is greatly simplified with electric buses. You do not need block heaters and you can throw away your cans of starting fluid. With an electric bus you simply turn a switch, build up air and go.
Last, but far from least, is the financial advantages of electric buses. The lack of components and filters found on fossil fuel buses reduces both labor and service costs. In addition, the electricity to operate the bus is usually considerably less expensive than the equivalent diesel fuel. This gives the electric bus an attractively low life cycle cost. In fact, the only meaningful expense found on the electric bus that is not on the diesel bus is a suggested battery replacement as the bus ages.
I might also mention that passengers are pleased with electric buses. The lack of noise and vibration is obvious on electric buses. Moreover, many passengers like electric buses because of their contribution in reducing pollution and reducing our dependency on foreign oil.
Electric Bus Shortcomings
There are perhaps three current or remaining shortcomings that are holding back the movement to electric buses. The first of these is charging time. It takes longer to recharge an electric bus than to refuel a diesel bus. Originally, it was expected that a battery electric bus would be recharged overnight, a procedure taking as much as six or eight hours. New procedures and higher voltages have made it possible to reduce recharging times. While they are still longer than the time to refuel a diesel bus, recharge times have become more manageable and more practical for most bus operators.
Batteries may be the single biggest problem with electric buses. Instead of the traditional lead-acid bus starting batteries, most battery buses now use some type of lithium ion battery. While they are more expensive, they have the capacity for more electric storage with less size and weight. However, these batteries are still limited in charge that in turn limits the range of the buses. The current state-of-the-art in battery capacity is sufficient for many transit applications, but a major improvement in increasing battery charge capacity would help increase battery bus range and practicality.
A third concern has been initial investment. While battery electric buses have very good overall lifecycle costs when compared with diesel buses, they are more expensive to initially purchase. Part of this is the cost of the batteries, but there are also some additional costs in making the bus lighter and more practical for electric operation. The ZEPS (Zero Emissions Propulsion System) bus from Complete Coach Works was designed to address this concern.
Complete Coach Works and the ZEPS Bus
Complete Coach Works of Riverside, California has an enviable reputation as a major rebuilder of buses, trucks and other vehicles. They have a great deal of expertise in rebuilding buses to give them a second life. Their sister company, Transit Sales International, specializes in offering a wide range of transit buses and similar equipment. Combining the expertise of both companies, they developed the ZEPS battery electric bus. In addition to being the world’s first and only remanufactured all-electric bus, it is built in California, is Buy America compliant, offers a new bus title and provides everything you would expect from a battery electric bus.
Building the ZEPS battery electric bus is essentially a three-step process. First, CCW starts off with a pre-owned, low-floor transit bus and substantially rebuilds it. The resulting bus has so much upgrading that it is given a new title. Second, some of the bus systems and components are replaced or modified to better suit electric bus operation. Third, CCW replaces the diesel engine and related components including the transmission with a state-of-the-art electric drive and companion batteries. The result is an up-to-date, fully operational battery electric transit bus at an attractive economical price.
CCW typically starts off with a 40-foot low-floor transit bus that has a 293-inch wheelbase and a GVW of 39,600 pounds. Both 35-foot and 30-foot buses are also available. The structure is remanufactured to like new conditions and high quality paint and graphics are applied. Windows are rebuilt with new seals, new latches and energy-efficient glass or polycarbonate. Door systems are completely remanufactured. Safety and interlock systems are upgraded to comply with current regulations.
The bus receives a new suspension, new brake pads and air bellows, and new wheel mounts and steering wheel linkages. Wheelchair ramps are rebuilt to new OEM specifications and the bus is upgraded to comply with current ADA requirements. Two wheelchair positions and safety belts are standard. The bus also receives a completely new interior with a customized color scheme to match your existing fleet. A standard interior is set up for 36 passengers plus standees.
When complete, the rebuilt bus is very similar to your existing fleet and should not cause any problems for drivers. It will have the usual features including power steering, air suspension, an air operated door, air brakes, heating and air conditioning, fire suppression and a wheelchair ramp. A bike rack is optional. Because of this extensive rebuilding, the bus comes with a new title.
Several components are replaced or modified to better suit electric operations. New lightweight aluminum wheels and low rolling resistance tires are installed. Existing marine plywood floors are replaced with high-density polyurethane foam reinforced with layers of fiberglass and finished with a lightweight rubber flooring. In addition to reducing weight by as much as 600 pounds, this new material will not rot and is considerably less affected by the elements.
The bus is equipped with energy-efficient LED lighting. In addition to using less electricity, the LED lighting will last longer between replacements. Also added is a new all-electric intelligent climate control system. A roof-mounted air conditioning system provides uniform cooling at all vehicle speeds and loads. This system is twice as efficient as the old system and is 50 percent lighter in weight.
CCW’s state-of-the-art electric propulsion system is centered around a dual-wound electric motor that provides maximum torque at the start and a smooth acceleration profile. It is powered by a 311 kWh lithium ion phosphate battery pack and the DC-DC converters are integrated into a single box to reduce the number of components and improve product reliability. Other features include a modern screen display for the driver, an advanced battery management system and an onboard charging system. Regenerative braking is provided to extend the range of the bus while increasing brake life. There is also an intelligent telemetry system that collects all critical system parameters and allows remote monitoring and troubleshooting.
ZEPS History and Operations
The ZEPS bus was originally introduced at the Electric Vehicle Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center in April of 2012 where it was warmly received. It was then showcased at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo held at the Long Beach Convention Center in May of 2012. Since then, CCW has been building ZEPS buses at its facility in Riverside, California. Some of the ZEPS operations are interesting or unusual.
CCW provided a ZEPS bus to the University of Utah that was equipped with a WAVE underground inductive charging system. The university previously prevented transit buses from operating on the campus because they did not want the noise and diesel particulates disturbing their beautiful campus. This was the first time that a transit bus operated an official service route at the university.
Another ZEPS bus went into a demonstration project with Ben Franklin Transit, operating in Richland, Washington as well as nearby Pasco and Kennewick. It serves on an eight-mile loop with frequent stops. An additional noteworthy item is that hydroelectric power is used to charge the bus, making it very clean indeed.
Probably the most unusual ZEPS bus to date was built for the University of California at Riverside. They wanted to “go green” with their 2000 Cable Car Classics 33.5-foot trolley themed bus on a Freightliner chassis. CCW rebuilt the bus and then converted it to a ZEPS electric power system. It charges in 3.5 hours and provides zero-emission transportation on the campus.
As this article was written, CCW was completing an order for 21 ZEPS buses for IndyGo in Indianapolis. These 40-foot buses seat 36 passengers and were rebuilt with lightweight flooring, lightweight seats and low resistance tires. They have a range of about 130 miles and are going into regular transit service in Indianapolis.
Information on the ZEPS battery electric bus is available from Complete Coach Works in Riverside, California.