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U of U to Roll Out All Electric Transit Bus

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2012-07-05 -

It’s hard to be a truly green campus when a fleet of exhaust-spewing buses blows smoke rings around the boundaries of a large campus like the University of Utah’s as they shuttle up to 47,000 students every week. Now, the U has ordered a 40-foot-tall electric bus that will be able to take students directly across campus and will charge its batteries using a pioneering recharge-station technology developed by partners at Utah State University.

“It’s a perfect fit for a collaboration between industry and education,” says Alma Allred, director of the university’s commuter services department, of the partnership that will be bringing the electric bus to campus in mid-September. The U, he says, has dabbled in alternative modes of transportation for more than a decade and has had recent success with hybrid natural-gas vehicles. But for the first time, he says, technology has allowed for an all-electric bus that cuts right across campus and effectively moves students while emitting no fossil-fuel emissions.

The school recently placed an order for an electric bus from BYD, a Chinese company that is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electric buses. When the bus arrives in Utah, however, Allred says it will be retrofitted with technology that will allow the bus to charge its batteries wirelessly through recharging “pads” developed by a spinoff company of Utah State University—Energy Dynamics Lab. The pads will be placed strategically around campus and can be embedded underneath asphalt or other surfaces. The buses can have up to as much 24 inches of clearance over the pads and still be able to wirelessly recharge the batteries in a matter of minutes.

Previous electric transportation was weighed down too much by heavy and cumbersome batteries, Allred says, but with new and efficient recharge stations, the battery weight can be replaced by the weight of passengers, making electric public transit much more economically feasible.

“If you’re able to charge your electric battery during the course of the day -- maybe two or three minutes every hour -- then the weight of the battery is significantly reduced,” Allred says.

He says that once operational, the electric bus will be able to pick up students from the south campus TRAX and take them north across campus, with stops at the Languages and Communications building and up to the Warnock Engineering building on the north edge of campus. While the bus will tentatively be running in September, Allred says it will take time to build new pedestrian walkways and place the charging stations across campus. Allred is optimistic about the future and is excited that the U has received a federal grant to help implement this project in a service that could not only benefit the university’s bustling student population but help future innovations in electric transportation.

“The scientists involved in this foresee having these [pads] put in roadways in a lot of different locations so future electric drivers could drive on the road and have their vehicle be charged as it's driving,” Allred says.

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