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ARCC opens options with new battery electric bus model

ARCC’s unique hydrogen fuel-cell bus design is already thriving on Australian roads. Now, the Australian manufacturer is introducing a battery electric model to complete its zero-emissions set

Ever since Aluminium Revolutionary Chassis Company (ARCC) began building its novel energy agnostic dual power option aluminium zero-emissions bus seven years ago, it’s done so with the mantra of ‘doing more with less’.

It’s taken this philosophy to the next level as it looks to introduce a new battery electric bus model that is nearly identical to its inaugural hydrogen fuel-cell bus in Australia.

Using the same energy agnostic dual power option aluminium frame, ARCC’s new electric model is once again chasing lighter weights to make the most of running zero-emissions bus services for Australian operators.

“Our hydrogen bus is performing beyond our expectations, but the challenge for operators is how to integrate hydrogen buses into their fleets due to the lack of existing refuelling infrastructure and commercial metrics around hydrogen costs,” ARCC founder and managing director Peter Murley told ABC.

“To meet the market and counter this challenge, we’re now ready to roll out our battery electric bus model with its world-class efficiency to provide options for operators wanting to make the zero-emissions transition.”

The key to ARCC’s design is once again in its complete chassis and body aluminium bolted solution. The lighter material offers a model that has a tare weight of only 11,850kg, meaning it is ligher than a diesel bus and can run on 250kWh for a range of more than 350 kilometres.

Murley says that much like the hydrogen fuel-cell ARCC bus, the battery electric version uses this lighter weight to reduce the energy needed to power the bus around Australia. His target is to get the electric bus to a level where it travels around 1.4 kilometres per kWh.

“The ARCC premise is using less to achieve more, and this new electric bus proves it,” Murley says.

“Our battery chemistry allows for fast charging in around 30 to 40 minutes depending on the charger used, changing the dynamic around the zero-emissions infrastructure challenges in Australia.”

Murley, like many in the Australian bus and coach market, has had to think long and hard about whether the zero-emissions transition will go the direction of battery electric or hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

Instead of going down one avenue exclusively, ARCC’s decision to roll out the battery electric bus is proof it is remaining open to both power sources depending on the application of each vehicle.

ARCC has done this by developing technology that makes its designs interchangeable so that from the roof down its buses are essentially exactly the same. This deliberate ploy encourages interchangeability between the models and allows for a world where one vehicle technology may unexpectedly flourish, with the replicated design giving operators the chance to switch power sources for the bus.

“We’ve made the design so that the roof space remains the same, meaning the bus module can have a hydrogen or a battery cell system bolted into the same eight holes,” Murley says.

 

“Our technology is agnostic to the power system and can start as one source and be changed to the other if it’s not commercially viable for the customer.

“This new model means Australian operators can start their ARCC journey with a battery electric bus and then switch it out for hydrogen tanks if that technology takes off in the next decade.”

Although they’re very similar models, ARCC’s latest battery electric bus incorporates plenty of learnings from the manufacturer’s first forays with its hydrogen-fuel cell model. Murley and his team have refined and enhanced the performance of the electric bus in line with the feedback gathered from the hydrogen vehicle’s metrics while out on operator trials.

One key learning ARCC has applied is to dial back the power on the bus via its software because it was too quick. Now, ARCC will continue reviewing its new battery electric bus to refine its design even more in the coming years.

Although the hydrogen-fuel cell model was ARCC’s first to come out due to the timing of contracts, both models have been designed, planned and structured in a parallel manner.

“The deployment of the hydrogen bus first meant our resources were allocated to that, but now we have the battery electric bus in focus,” Murley says.

“We expect to deliver that along with the next hydrogen buses delivered to Transit Systems in Melbourne followed by CDC in Geelong in early 2024.”

This joint approach to building zero-emissions buses means ARCC has also been able to learn best practice for both power sources. Unlike other electric buses in the markets that use around 350kWh of electric batteries, ARCC’s lightweight structure means its 250kWh of batteries offers a unique advantage.

For Australian operators who want to reduce costs over the total ownership cycle, Murley says ARCC’s electric bus helps ensure demand outstrips supply, lowering the costs involved and making the running of the bus cheaper than other alternatives in the market.

This flexibility on the new ARCC electric bus extends to batteries.

In a bid to localise the bus’s production and follow the changing trends around the world, ARCC switched battery suppliers to global company Webasto. Murley says this ability to change to reflect the evolving nature of zero-emissions transport means ARCC also has its eye on potentially assembling batteries for its buses in Australia.

“Anything we can localise and apply our software to talk to, including any CAN system, we see as a benefit for us in terms of how the bus will be deployed,” he says.

“The bus is set up so that it can go immediately into a fleet. There’s nothing bespoke about the charger it needs or any additional infrastructure.”

 

Although ARCC’s latest model isn’t the only new battery electric bus being released in Australia in 2023, Murley says it can offer benefits that other models can’t.

He says while a standard electric bus can travel 0.7 kilometres per kWh, he is excited by the 1.3 kilometres per kWh data that his electric version is recording.

Breaking it down, he says this 60 per cent efficiency boost, when compared to other battery electric buses in the market, provides a major advantage in terms of operational costs for Australian companies.

“Our vehicle will be significantly cheaper over the lifespan of the bus while doing the same range with less power,” Murley says.

“By going 60 per cent further per kWh and not carting around an extra 2.5 tonnes in battery weight, the battery life may extend and the total cost of ownership will only get better.”

Much like its openness with its Red Bus hydrogen bus trial, ARCC will continue being transparent with its telematics data as the electric bus rolls out into Australian operations.

Murley says the new model will be given to major NSW operators for testing and evaluation before the company compiles feedback and releases the bus to the market.

ARCC has picked major operators for this testing phase. It’s a leap of faith, but ARCC’s can-do attitude means it’s raring for the challenge to introduce its unique approach to the expanding battery electric bus market in Australia.

“We’ve already got committed sales for our hydrogen version and reputation-wise we’ve proven through our Red Bus trial that our vehicle reliability is there,” Murley says.

“The electric vehicles, going forward, will be available for sale when Panel 4 comes out in NSW, so hopefully around the end of this year we have electric buses in build for customers.

“We’re looking to prove our premise of ‘doing more with less’ is true by choosing to trial our electric model with CDC and Transit Systems. We’re ready to show our technology off.”

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