Israeli battery technology could help U.S. clear air

A zero-emission bus using Israeli-developed batteries will be tested in Las Vegas, Nev. An Israel-based electric battery manufacturer has plans to test its 40-foot-long zero-emission all-electric buses in Las Vegas, Nev., a city where the population is skyrocketing and the …

A zero-emission bus using Israeli-developed batteries will be tested in Las Vegas, Nev.

An Israel-based electric battery manufacturer has plans to test its 40-foot-long zero-emission all-electric buses in Las Vegas, Nev., a city where the population is skyrocketing and the concomitant increase in vehicles is dirtying the air.

If a small fleet of between two and five buses, manufactured by Electric Fuel Corp., proves to be efficient, reliable, and economical in the crucible of the desert city’s 100-plus degree summer heat, Electric Fuel thinks it can gain acceptance by public and private bus systems throughout the United States.

“We hope having the buses running continuously will generate interest among other bus operators around America,” said Jonathan Whartman, senior vice president for Electric Fuel in Israel.

Electric Fuel is now headquartered in New York, but the zinc-air batteries for the buses are made at its 100-employee research and development facility at Beit Shemesh, Israel, where the company was founded in 1990.

Besides its work in primary and refuelable zinc-air fuel cell technology for electric vehicles and other uses, the publicly-held company is also involved in consumer electronics and defense and safety products.

The Israeli-manufactured zinc-air batteries enable a 40-foot transit bus to operate eight to nine hours per day without refueling with the air conditioning and headlights on at all times.

“No one is going to buy a bus that requires refueling every two hours,” Whartman said.

The batteries act in some respects like fuel cells and in others like common storage batteries. Inside the batteries, zinc electrodes are submersed in an electrolyte. Oxygen in the atmosphere reacts with the zinc and generates electricity and zinc oxide.

Once the battery has been discharged, the spent zinc electrodes can be restored in just 10 minutes, using a mobile “refueling” system developed by Electric Fuel. The system separates the zinc oxide produced when the battery is discharged back into zinc and oxygen so the electricity-generating process can begin again.

Support for the Las Vegas demonstration program came originally from Nevada’s two senators, Harry Reid and John Ensign, who called a press conference in Washington, D.C., in March to promote it. Both senators participated in a demonstration drive of the bus around the capital.

Electric Fuel is excited about Las Vegas as the place to launch the buses because it is the fastest-growing city in the United States.

Buses were a logical choice to maximize the clean-air potential of the battery principally because they put out so much more pollution than passenger cars, Whartman said. Buses are typically in service between 12 and 24 hours a day and, thus, emit pollution continuously. An average car is a zero-emission non-polluting vehicle about 95 percent of the time simply because it is not being driven.

In addition, buses tend to be used the most in the centers of cities and towns, which are the worst places for pollution. The pollution from one bus is equal to the pollution generated by 200 to 300 cars, Whartman said.

The bus was developed through the support of the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation or BIRD, a cooperative venture between Israel and the U.S. government to promote technology sharing, as well as the U.S. Federal Transit Administration.

Electric Fuel batteries will also be used in a cargo/passenger van made by Daimler Chrysler that will be tested in a demonstration program in Germany.