Sunday, August 18, 2019

Solar-powered bus

This electric urban shuttle bus was made in Brazil, with a Mercedes-Benz O-500M chassis converted to electric by Eletra, a company specialized in electric drivetrains for heavy commercial vehicles that used to be mostly known for its serial hybrids but now supplies more full-electric systems catering to the trolleybuses of São Paulo city. This one specifically resorts to solar charging for its batteries bank, and is undergoing tests at the Santa Catarina State Federal University (UFSC - Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina) operating regular routes between its main campus and the Sapiens Parque, both in the Florianópolis island.
The body is a Marcopolo Torino Low-Entry, very similar to some Diesel-powered ones that operate regularly in my hometown Porto Alegre, while the overwhelming majority of the urban bus fleet in Florianópolis is front-engined with raised floor. Some differences between this one and a normal bus are mostly noticeable on the roof-mounted battery trays and solar panels, while the cockpit has a few different buttons, a rotary dial instead of the shift buttons for a normal automatic transmission, and the absence of a tachometer.
The electric motor is made by Weg, a company that is headquartered in Jaraguá do Sul, Santa Catarina state, but the electronic controls are developed in-house by Eletra, while the batteries are imported. The chemistry of batteries have been a complex matter, not just due to the improvements on the energy density required for mobile applications such as a vehicle but also because of factors such as the environmental impact of its end-of-life handling nowadays frequently referred to as "reverse logistics". Lithium batteries are not as easy to recycle as Lead-Acid ones which are still more common powering the accessories and the electronic controls in a more conventional vehicle with an internal-combustion engine.
One thing I can't deny, this bus got me thinking about some previous opportunities to develop local technologies for electric vehicles, including batteries with a higher efficiency back in the day when it was either Lead-Acid or those highly toxic Nickel-Cadmium ones. It's impossible to neglect the efforts of João Augusto Conrado do Amaral Gurgel, the same developer of a local attempt to replace the Beetle in the '80s, who also researched on batteries for EVs which he considered more promising than the ethanol despite his good relationship with the '64-'85 military government more supportive to ethanol. I'm sure it would be interesting to say the least if Gurgel's tetrapolar batteries get replicated with modern battery chemistry in order to improve its energy density...

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