Electric cars might be what everyone is talking about these days, but one man believes that electric buses are the transportation of the future. Ryan Popple, who was one of Tesla's earlier employees created the startup Proterra and has designed a fancy new electric bus that was able to drive 258 miles on a single charge. That number is made even more impressive by the fact that 258 miles is more than most tiny electric cars are capable of going and also much farther than a typical city bus route for a day.
This means that these electric buses are already ready to replace the hundreds of thousands of diesel buses that are traveling around the United States. Most of these diesel buses only average less than five miles to the gallon and produce a lot of carbon pollution, soot, and carcinogens into the air, including arsenic.
Because the buses do not have to rely so heavily on fuel, they are cheaper over the lifetime of their use than alternative buses, like hybrid-diesel buses or those that rely on natural gas. These buses are also something anyone can use, which essentially democratizes one of the most advanced alternative transportation technologies in modern times. According to Popple, "We're taking a technology that's used to power $100,000 sports cars, and we're putting it into the absolute most accessible transportation asset in the country."
Just like Tesla, Proterra designed these electric buses from the ground up. "I think it's important to cut ties with the legacy technology," Popple added. "If you tell your engineering group one of the rules they have to stick by is they have to use all the old parts form the parts bin, you're going to end up with a terrible product."
Electric vehicles run in a fundamentally different way than traditional vehicles. In electric cars, the engine is no longer the heaviest part and you no longer have to worry about exhaust or a tank of flammable gasoline. New parts, including battery packs, also need to go into different places. There are new parts to the design that are optimized for electricity and have other advantages. The buses themselves are made from carbon fiber so they are extremely lightweight, which allows the battery system to be smaller. Additionally, because the bus isn't made of metal, it also doesn't rust and lasts longer on the road. The weight also has an evener distribution, which allows for better turning and acceleration.
In addition to that, it is also easier to be manufactured. According to Popple, "Long term, we have a huge advantage over steel bus manufacturers. They're building buses like you'd build a house. They build a steel frame, they rivet things onto it. At our factory, we take in a composite body just like an aircraft fuselage."
It should be noted that the 258 mile trip was in peak conditions. In real conditions, with a load of people, on a rough road, and with different weather conditions, the bus probably won't get such good mileage. However, the 258 miles is far more than necessary as the average city bus only travels 130 miles in a day. "We think we've now hit the range that really removes any sort of range anxiety," Popple added. "There's no physical reason why you couldn't deploy zero-emission, quiet, high-tech buses."
Right now, Popple is in talks with a number of U.S. transit agencies and, in five years, hopes to reach all of them. "We want to talk to that last agency that's about to buy the last set of diesel buses. I don't know why we're encouraging people to buy cars. It's a terrible investment, you're exposed to oil prices, you have insurance costs. What we should be doing is putting out low-carbon mass transit, and helping people get back to work for pennies a day as opposed to dollars."
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