The San Diego International Airport is converting the existing LPG (liquified petroleum gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas) fleet to an all-electric one. The initiative will help them achieve sustainability goals and reduce energy and maintenance costs, turning them into the airport with the most advanced shuttle buses in the country.
Endera, the company providing the technology, specializes in end-to-end smart electric commercial vehicles manufactured in the US, as well as charging stations and software solutions. Their sustainable solutions lower the total costs of ownership and rival fossil-fueled vehicles in price, profitability, longevity, and quality of service.
It’s expected that the partnership between the San Diego International Airport and Endera will save up to $20,000 a year per vehicle. The fleet will also significantly reduce CO2 emissions by around 5 million pounds compared to LPG and CNG.
Countries promoting electrification of mass transit are propelling the growth of the electric bus market. In 2019, there were about 137,000 electric buses in circulation. By 2027, this number is expected to increase to 937,000 units.
Electric Bus Technology
Sixteen of the new San Diego fleet vehicles are large, high-occupancy shuttles built on a Ford F-550 platform. They are equipped with leading lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) cells and DC fast charging (DCFC) capability. The EV shuttles can achieve a range of up to 130 miles and fully charge their batteries in a little over two hours.
The bodies are built by Diamond Coach, manufacturers of rust-free, impact-resistant buses, using lightweight composite materials that are much more efficient than steel and aluminum designs.
The buses’ technology also leverages computer vision, data aggregation, and machine learning to automatically count passengers, create reports, and provide a dispatching console for management team operations. An infrared camera can read the temperature of passengers as they board the bus — a measure designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The EVs are incredibly quiet and run smoothly, decreasing driver fatigue and providing users with a better onboard experience. They are also compatible with the Wayne Go app, which lets airport users estimate arrival times and check seat availability.
Zero Emission Regulations
The California Air Resources Board adopted California's Zero-Emission Airport Shuttle Regulation in June 2019. This regulation focuses on vehicles that operate on fixed routes, have stop-and-go operations and central maintenance, and keep low average speeds. The ruling requires that all airport shuttle operations transition to ZEV technologies, or 100% zero-emission vehicles. Operators in airports need to begin adding ZEV vehicles by 2027 and complete the transition by the end of 2035.
In order to facilitate the transition to EVs by those dates, several sectors are receiving help from governments and organizations.
In 2018, the American Low or No Emission Grant program awarded nearly $85 million in grants to over 50 state and local governments. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also granted $8.7 million to replace 450 diesel buses with electric buses in over a hundred school bus fleets across 32 states.
The Electric Bus Market
The EV market has grown quickly, reaching a tipping point in 2019. EV sales rose globally 65% from 2017 to 2018, driven in large part by the launch of the Tesla Model 3, but slowed down to 9% in 2019. The market is currently dominated by companies BYD (China), Yutong (China), Proterra (US), VDL (Netherlands), and AB Volvo (Sweden).
Low oil prices and the loosening of regulations and fuel-economy standards in the U.S. have driven EV sales down in general; however, an estimated 450 new EV models will be launched by 2022. In particular, the electric bus market is expected to show a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.2% for 2020-2027, with the 9-14 m (29.53-45.93 ft) bus length segment projected to be the largest in terms of volume. The vast majority of zero-emission buses will use large batteries, switching perhaps to hydrogen once the infrastructure allows it.
California has taken the earliest and most progressive measures in terms of adapting their airport shuttle operators to zero-emission buses. Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) has also installed 300 chargers and conversions of commercial fleets from diesel to electric.
Manufacturers of electric buses such as BYD and Phoenix Motorcars are also rising to the occasion. Phoenix Motorcars and the South Coast Air Quality Management District earned a $3.18 million award from the US EPA to replace 29 diesel- and gas-fueled shuttles at LAX, ONT, JWA, and BUR airports.
The market is expected to grow with the help of more strict emissions regulations, an expanding charging network, and advances in EV technologies that lengthen driving ranges and cut prices.
The most promising pockets of growth will belong to companies that can provide suitable EV models that follow government regulations.
About the Author
Yisela Alvarez Trentini is an Anthropologist + User Experience / Human-Computer Interaction Designer with an interest in emerging technologies, social robotics, and VR/AR.