June 1, 2006 12:23 PM PDT

The greening of the city bus

In the world of hybrid cars and alternative energy, the municipal bus has become the vehicle to watch.

Short driving distances and the stop-start nature of urban driving have made buses into something of a test platform for ideas for energy-efficient vehicles. Major cities have begun to buy into these buses as well.

San Francisco, for instance, announced this week that it has ordered 56 Orion VII hybrid diesel vehicles from DaimlerChrysler and will have 86 of the buses, which run on diesel and battery power, on the city's roads by 2007.

New York, meanwhile, already owns several Orion VIIs and has plans to put 1,000 of them on the streets by the end of the year, according to Andreas Renschler, a member of the board of DaimlerChrysler. Toronto has ordered 200.

Daimler also has kicked off a trial in California with the Sprinter, a plug-in hybrid delivery vehicle. Plug-in hybrids run almost exclusively on electricity and get recharged at night by being plugged into a wall socket. The batteries can take up a substantial amount of space in these cars, but they get far better gas mileage than standard light trucks or other hybrids.

The company is also participating in trials for hydrogen buses in China and 30 cities in Europe.

Why buses? The nature of the tasks they perform fits well with a lot of these technologies. Standard hybrid cars get recharged when the brakes are applied in a process called regenerative braking. (The mechanical energy of the car is converted to electricity). Drivers hit the brakes in cities a lot, but far less so on the freeway.

Urban buses also don't get cranked up to top speeds, so the electrical engine can perform more of the work of propelling it forward.

Orion VII gallery

"For long-mileage driving, a hybrid is not the right thing. If you drove from San Francisco to New York, you'd lose all of the benefits of a hybrid," Renschler said. "But for stop-and-go, it is the perfect solution."

Similarly, hydrogen dovetails well with bus driving. Because buses generally don't go long distances, drivers don't have to worry about being stranded miles away from a hydrogen filling station: One can be built close to the bus routes. The fact that hydrogen vehicles sometimes top out at 90 miles an hour isn't a problem with buses, which typically lumber along at 30 miles per hour or less.

Daimler actually put a hydrogen bus on the streets of Stuttgart, Germany, in 1969, said a company representative. "It worked well, but there was no interest because gas prices were low."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the city conducted a study from 2001 to 2003 and examined several types of energy-efficient buses before placing the orders for the Orion diesel hybrids. Buses that run on compressed natural gas, used in some cities, wouldn't work well in hilly San Francisco, he said.

The city is also looking at biodiesel-powered and fuel cell buses.

"Our goal is to be 100 percent emission-free in municipal transportation by 2020," Newsom said.

From a rider's perspective, the Orion VII isn't much different than a standard bus. It comes with somewhat fewer seats, but doesn't make nearly as much noise. It emits a humming sound, rather like a large meat refrigerator.

Right now, energy efficiency isn't cheap. The Orion VII buses cost around $488,000 apiece. A standard diesel bus might cost $250,000 to $280,000, according to the Daimler representative. The Orion VII gets about 4.5 miles to the gallon--that's not much compared with a Toyota Prius, but standard buses get only about 3.5 miles per gallon.

Click here to Play

Video: A greener ride home
Diesel-electric hybrid buses headed to the streets of San Francisco.

In other words, the Orions represent about a 35 percent improvement in fuel economy. Over a 12-year period, these buses will use 1.2 million fewer gallons of diesel than a standard bus, Renschler said. That's about 13,000 U.S. barrels of oils. Early results in New York City also indicate that the buses may require less maintenance.

The buses also reduce the particulates spewing out of the tailpipe by about 90 percent. Nitrogen/oxygen compounds are reduced by about 40 percent, and greenhouse gases overall are reduced by about 30 percent.

Oil companies and car manufacturers are further looking at ways to reduce particulate matter by adopting cleaner forms of diesel made out of natural gas.

For consumers and for distance driving, DaimlerChrysler is touting its BlueTech diesel engines, which burn cleaner than standard diesels. The company already sells cars with these engines in Europe and will bring a Mercedes to the U.S. in the fall with one.

See more CNET content tagged:
DaimlerChrysler AG, bus, hydrogen, hybrid car, city

20 comments

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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses Prooving Big Hit in London
Although, as with any new technology, they are at the moment
expensive to buy and require investment in new fueling
facilities, the trial of fuel cell buses in London has been a huge
success. The trial has yet again been extended until at least
January 2007 and the mayor has set a target of 70 hydrogen
buses in London to be operational by 2010. See:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112" target="_newWindow">http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112</a>
Posted by mstapley (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses Prooving Big Hit in London
Although, as with any new technology, they are at the moment
expensive to buy and require investment in new fueling
facilities, the trial of fuel cell buses in London has been a huge
success. The trial has yet again been extended until at least
January 2007 and the mayor has set a target of 70 hydrogen
buses in London to be operational by 2010. See:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112" target="_newWindow">http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112</a>
Posted by mstapley (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses are a Big Hit in London
Although, as with any new technology, they are at the moment
expensive to buy and require investment in new fueling
facilities, the trial of fuel cell buses in London has been a huge
success. The trial has yet again been extended until at least
January 2007 and the mayor has set a target of 70 hydrogen
buses in London to be operational by 2010. See:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112" target="_newWindow">http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112</a>
Posted by mstapley (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses are a Big Hit in London
Although, as with any new technology, they are at the moment
expensive to buy and require investment in new fueling
facilities, the trial of fuel cell buses in London has been a huge
success. The trial has yet again been extended until at least
January 2007 and the mayor has set a target of 70 hydrogen
buses in London to be operational by 2010. See:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.fuel-cell-bus-club.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112" target="_newWindow">http://www.alwaystouchout.com/project/112</a>
Posted by mstapley (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How well would a biodiesel or E85 hybrid do?
better fuel efficiency and lessening the dependency on foreign oil.

I like the progress being made.
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How well would a biodiesel or E85 hybrid do?
better fuel efficiency and lessening the dependency on foreign oil.

I like the progress being made.
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Net Energy Used
All this sounds very nice. What is missing is an analysis of the net cost of the energy used to provide the electricy or hydrogen to power these vehicles. In the end, that's what counts. Government subsidies can be used to jump-start, but eventually the technology must stand on its own. Any story that does not dicusss this aspect is missing the whole point.

I've not seen such a discussion (can anyone point me to the right place?). If the net cost to grow the corn and brew it into ethanol, or to mine the coal and make it into electricity, or whatever method is used to free the hydrogen atoms from whatever they are bonded to - if that net cost exceeds gasoline, the technologies don't make sense.

It's not a simple subject. But it's not discussed.

Regards

Tom Budlong
Posted by Budlong (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
your missing a big point
the major problem with gasoline is that you import from unstable regions of the world. THAT is the reason you need to get off gasoline not because its more efficient energy wise. However since gas is a finite resource the price will eventually far exceed renewable resource energy costs. Do you want to wait to change until then?
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Link Flag
you are correct sir!
It is not economically feasible to produce any hydrogen using fossil fuel technology. It takes more energy to create hydrogen than the energy the hydrogen produces. In fact it is a riduculous process, as doing this is increasing global warming as we speak. Best to concentrate research to isolate the molecules in an energy efficient manner.
Posted by Xat Nam (28 comments )
Link Flag
Net Energy Used
All this sounds very nice. What is missing is an analysis of the net cost of the energy used to provide the electricy or hydrogen to power these vehicles. In the end, that's what counts. Government subsidies can be used to jump-start, but eventually the technology must stand on its own. Any story that does not dicusss this aspect is missing the whole point.

I've not seen such a discussion (can anyone point me to the right place?). If the net cost to grow the corn and brew it into ethanol, or to mine the coal and make it into electricity, or whatever method is used to free the hydrogen atoms from whatever they are bonded to - if that net cost exceeds gasoline, the technologies don't make sense.

It's not a simple subject. But it's not discussed.

Regards

Tom Budlong
Posted by Budlong (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
your missing a big point
the major problem with gasoline is that you import from unstable regions of the world. THAT is the reason you need to get off gasoline not because its more efficient energy wise. However since gas is a finite resource the price will eventually far exceed renewable resource energy costs. Do you want to wait to change until then?
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Link Flag
you are correct sir!
It is not economically feasible to produce any hydrogen using fossil fuel technology. It takes more energy to create hydrogen than the energy the hydrogen produces. In fact it is a riduculous process, as doing this is increasing global warming as we speak. Best to concentrate research to isolate the molecules in an energy efficient manner.
Posted by Xat Nam (28 comments )
Link Flag
Whats so great about this?
So San Fran is buying 56 Hybrid bus's. While I applaud the effort, this hardly qualifies them as a leader in green technology. Did c/net actually do any research about this before they put out the story?

Seattle bought 235 Electric/Hybrid bus's back in 2004. I ride them all the time and they are smooth,quiet and clean. They are articulated and seat 58 passengers.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/hy-diesel.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/hy-diesel.html</a>


Seattle has somewhere around 500 electric trolley bus's that have no emissions. One cool thing about them is that they use their electric motors to slow down going down the hills and put power back into the overhead grid.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/a-trolley.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/a-trolley.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/breda-trolley.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/breda-trolley.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/g-trolley.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/g-trolley.html</a>

Seattle also plans to have all 1200 of its bus's running 5% biodiesel blend by the end of 2006. This will mean that they will be buying about a half a million gallons of biodiesel a year which should jumpstart the biodiesel industry in Washingtonstate.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.seattlebiodiesel.com/faq.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.seattlebiodiesel.com/faq.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/07/seattle_biodies.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/07/seattle_biodies.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fuelwerks.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.fuelwerks.com/</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/212618_biodiesel18.html" target="_newWindow">http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/212618_biodiesel18.html</a>
Posted by jonathan.crowe (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Whats so great about this?
So San Fran is buying 56 Hybrid bus's. While I applaud the effort, this hardly qualifies them as a leader in green technology. Did c/net actually do any research about this before they put out the story?

Seattle bought 235 Electric/Hybrid bus's back in 2004. I ride them all the time and they are smooth,quiet and clean. They are articulated and seat 58 passengers.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/hy-diesel.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/hy-diesel.html</a>


Seattle has somewhere around 500 electric trolley bus's that have no emissions. One cool thing about them is that they use their electric motors to slow down going down the hills and put power back into the overhead grid.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/a-trolley.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/a-trolley.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/breda-trolley.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/breda-trolley.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/g-trolley.html" target="_newWindow">http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/vehicles/g-trolley.html</a>

Seattle also plans to have all 1200 of its bus's running 5% biodiesel blend by the end of 2006. This will mean that they will be buying about a half a million gallons of biodiesel a year which should jumpstart the biodiesel industry in Washingtonstate.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.seattlebiodiesel.com/faq.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.seattlebiodiesel.com/faq.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/07/seattle_biodies.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/07/seattle_biodies.html</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fuelwerks.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.fuelwerks.com/</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/212618_biodiesel18.html" target="_newWindow">http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/212618_biodiesel18.html</a>
Posted by jonathan.crowe (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Diesel buses have to go
As much as these hybrids try to tout themselves as 'green', as long as they are burning gasoline or diesel, the pollution is still there. The hydrogen powered busses solve that problem, but the lack of infrastructure to support them is still a ways off. The best solution I've seen for short term are the LNG buses. While not as clean as hydrogen, LNG (basically methane) produces only CO2 and H2O as a combustion product. No more nasty diesel fumes.
Posted by feliusrex (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Diesel buses have to go
As much as these hybrids try to tout themselves as 'green', as long as they are burning gasoline or diesel, the pollution is still there. The hydrogen powered busses solve that problem, but the lack of infrastructure to support them is still a ways off. The best solution I've seen for short term are the LNG buses. While not as clean as hydrogen, LNG (basically methane) produces only CO2 and H2O as a combustion product. No more nasty diesel fumes.
Posted by feliusrex (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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