Electric buses on the horizon for São Paulo’s streets

electric buses são paulo

The biggest metropolis of South America, São Paulo has a complex urban public transport network, with a fleet including 14,076 buses running on diesel and 201 trolleybuses, which draw their power from overhead electrical wires. As of this month, however, a novelty may be seen on the city’s streets. The São Paulo government is planning to roll out a fleet of 15 entirely battery-powered buses, the first of their kind in the state capital.

“It will be a chance to verify the performance of electric buses in everyday usage, in rigorous operating conditions,” said

Simão Saura Neto, the superintendent of vehicular engineering and special mobility of SPTrans, the company in charge of the city&#8217;s public transport.</p> <p>Bus manufacturers, parts and battery suppliers, electricity distribution companies, municipal government, and transport experts are monitoring this experiment closely, hoping that it may serve as a reference to expanding the fleet of electric buses in Brazil. Local government will evaluate the technical reliability of the vehicles—which must circulate for over 200 kilometers per day without recharging—the infrastructure of electricity supply, environmental impact and economic viability of maintaining a battery-powered fleet.</p> <p>The substitution of São Paulo&#8217;s <a href="">diesel</a> bus fleet is a legal necessity. In 2018, a municipal law established that vehicles used for public transport must reduce their carbon dioxide (CO<sub>2</sub>) emissions by 50 percent within ten years, and by 100 percent in 20 years. The release of particulate material (PM) must fall by 90 and 95 percent, respectively, while nitrogen oxides (NO x) emissions must be reduced by 80 and 95 percent.</p> <p>&#8220;Using fuels such as ethanol and biogas will be enough to meet ten-year goals, but only electric [buses] and hydrogen vehicles will suffice to comply with what has been established for 20 years, when emissions must be eliminated,&#8221; said Mr. Saura Neto. Hydrogen vehicles are prohibitively expensive—coming in at around BRL 3 million per bus—and trolleybuses are an unattractive prospect, with the high costs of maintaining the aerial network of cables and the low operational flexibility of the vehicles, which can only run on specific roads.</p> <p>Paulo Henrique de Mello Sant&#8217;Ana, mechanical engineer and professor of the Center of Engineering, Modelling and Applied Social Science of the ABC Federal University (Cecs-UFABC), is studying the socio-environmental impact of gradually replacing São Paulo&#8217;s bus fleet to battery-powered vehicles. A master&#8217;s thesis from his research group states it would be possible to avoid the release of 19,000 tons of NO x and 78 tons of PM in the city by 2038, reducing the release of these pollutants by 45 and 19 percent, respectively.</p> <p>&#8220;In the future, the more renewable the electricity matrix becomes, with the use of sources such as wind and solar power, the better the global results of emissions of electric vehicles,&#8221; said Mr. Sant&#8217;Ana, clarifying that the energy used in recharging batteries would come from fewer sources which are less aggressive to the environment.</p> <p>As well as being friendlier to the planet, battery-powered buses have significantly lower operational costs. &#8220;Charging costs are on average five times less than [the cost of filling] diesel-fueled buses,&#8221; said Ricardo Takahira, vice-coordinator of the technical committee of hybrid electric vehicles of the Mobility Engineers Society (SAE-Brasil). With electric motors, 95 percent of the electricity consumed is passed on to power to the vehicle&#8217;s wheels, while this rate is only 35 percent. Costs of maintaining electric vehicles are also lower, as they are controlled electronically, without pistons, spark plugs or the need for lubricants.</p> <p>On the other hand, the initial investment for electric buses is much higher. While a 13-meter diesel bus for 80 passengers costs around BRL 600,000, an equivalent electric vehicle is worth over half this amount: BRL 1.3 million. What&#8217;s more, bus depots would have to be fitted with charging stations, which SPTrans estimates would cost around BRL 40,000 per vehicle.</p> <h2>Innovation and production</h2> <p>Reducing costs and creating alternatives to allow for the migration from diesel to electric are challenges for which industry is seeking solutions. Since 2017, Chinese company BYD has had a factory for heavy electric vehicle chassis in Campinas, having sold 45 buses in the country, including the 15 to be tested by SPTrans. The other 30 will be tested in the cities of Brasilia, Maringá, Volta Redonda, Campinas, Santos, and Bauru. Adalberto Maluf, the company&#8217;s director of new business, says that BYD&#8217;s research and development department is working to reduce the weight of its chassis, replacing steel for aluminum. &#8220;By reducing the weight, we increase the autonomy of the vehicle,&#8221; he said</p> <p>Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus (VWCO) has its global R&amp;D center in the Rio de Janeiro town of Resende. There, the company is developing the multinational&#8217;s first bus with electric traction, the Volksbus e-Flex, which is currently in a prototype stage. &#8220;It will be able to contemplate all variants of electric mobility,&#8221; said Roberto Cores, VWCO president.</p> <p>The model is a hybrid, being able to operate with a battery or a gasoline- and ethanol-powered motor. Batteries are charged at external stations or by an internal generator supplied by the combustion engine. The use of the generator is automatic, controlled by an electronic system regulating the charge level of batteries.</p> <h2>Situation around the world</h2> <p>A total of 425,000 buses around the world were battery-powered in 2018, corresponding to around 17 percent of the total fleet, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Ninety-nine percent of these vehicles circulate in China, which adopted public policies to subsidize the system as a way to improve the air quality of its big cities. By 2040, a predicted 60 percent of the worldwide fleet of buses will be battery-powered. &#8220;At first, the expansion should take place not just for financial reasons, but also driven by environmental regulation and public incentive policies,” says Flávia Consoni, from the Department of Scientific and Technology Policies of the Geosciences Institute of Campinas University (DPCT-IG-Unicamp).</p> <p>In the U.S., the government of California has established that the entire public transport fleet must be electric by 2029. Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands have also announced policies to this end. In Chile, the goal is to make the fleet 100 percent electric by 2050. Brazil, with over 100,000 urban transport buses and only 500 electric vehicles (including trolleybuses), has begun negotiations to formulate a national electromobility plan in the scope of the now-defunct Ministry of Development, Industry, and Commerce. &#8220;Discussions stopped with the change in command of the federal government,&#8221; says Flávia Consoni, who was involved in the project.</p> <p>Brazil&#8217;s other big cities are not standing still. Campinas, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, and Brasília are developing alternatives to make their fleets electric. São Paulo&#8217;s is the most advanced program but is facing problems. The city government set up a public bidding process with rules to renew public transport services, but the case is currently stalled due to legal issues. However, a steering committee of the municipal fleet is responsible for implementing the municipal law concerning the reduction of pollutants emitted by public transport, regardless of the bidding process. Electric buses are an alternative to comply with this legislation.</p> <p><em><a href="">This article was originally published by Revista Pesquisa Fapesp</a></em>

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