November 2, 2003, Updated September 13, 2012

The Electric Fuel zinc air bus during its record-breaking 145-mile journey in Rome, New York last summer.The day may be near when environment-friendly buses powered by a zinc air fuel technology developed in Israel are a regular sight on U.S. city streets. A joint Israeli-American project to develop an all-electric bus for urban use will be unveiled this week, following six years of research.

The Israeli company Electric Fuel Battery Corporation, a subsidiary of the Arotech Corporation, along with General Electric and NovaBus, collaborated on the project called the Zinc-Air All Electric Transit Bus program, together with the U.S. Federal Transit Administration.

This week, in Schenectady, NY, both dignitaries and the general public will be invited to ride the electric bus that recently achieved a record 145 mile range, in tests simulating severe urban traffic. The inauguration of the model, which will take place on Thursday, follows six years of collaborative research, and marks the finalization of Phase III of the program.

An all-electric bus will mark a tremendous breakthrough – both in terms of reducing gas emissions and saving mondy. Busses are tremendous energy guzzlers – using energy for everything from the lights, air conditioning down to the lift for disabled passengers.
The goal is for the zinc-air buses to ultimately replace the current public buses, which run on diesel fuel, a source of heavy carbon monoxide pollution in cities across the country.

“I first made contact with GE in 1997,” Jonathan Whartman, Arotech’s Senior Vice President, recounted to ISRAEL21c. “Our subsidiary Electric Fuel had already been building batteries for electric vehicles for years. But we needed a partnership with a big company to get this off the ground. I called GE cold and the program we have today is the result of that phone call.”

The work on the project was divided in the following manner

** Arotech developed the zinc air battery for the bus: the main energy base.

** GE, at their R&D center in Schenectady, New York, developed the propulsion system – which includes the motor, the gear box, and the energy management system.

** An international company NovaBUS built the frame for the buses.

Whartman explained that the partnership also included the Regional Transportation Commission of Nevada, and two senators from that state – Harry Reed, a Democrat and John Ensign a Republican, who became the biggest supporters of the program.

“With their backing, we managed to get national funding earmarked within the transportation budget for the Federal Transit Authority for four different years,” said Whartman. “The outcome of the program we started is that we have a clean bus, zero emission, an all electric bus that is capable of driving a full days shift without refueling or recharging. And we’re talking about a standard 44 ft. passenger bus with all amenities.”

“In July we did a test run at a US Air Force base in Rome, New York. We drove up and down their long runways for 145 miles – simulating stop and go traffic – without refueling,” he added.

Whartman believes that these test results clearly indicate that all-electric buses utilizing Electric Fuel’s Zinc-Air technology have sufficient range to offer a practical solution for helping to eliminate bus pollution in central cities.

Powered by the Company’s Electric Fuel zinc air fuel cell technology, a pack of advanced ultra capacitors and an improved energy management system, the hybrid all electric bus has zero tailpipe emissions.

“There are two major advantages to using an electric bus over the present system,” said Whartman. “One, of course, is the environmental issue. Simply put, it will improve the quality of the air. But the second one, and this has really on come into play since September 11 is the national security issue. Using electric power reduces the dependency on foreign oil.”

The cell comprises a central static replaceable anode cassette comprising a slurry of electrochemically generated zinc particles in a potassium hydroxide solution compacted onto a current collection frame and inserted into a separator envelope, flanked on two sides by high-power air (oxygen) reduction cathodes that extract oxygen from the air for the zinc-oxidation reaction. The discharged zinc-air module removed from the vehicle is “refueled” or mechanically recharged by exchanging spent “cassettes” with fresh cassettes. This is accomplished by a refueling machine that returns the zinc-air modules to service.

“The original patent on zinc air batteries goes back to ’94 – 1894 that is,” said Whartman after a pause for effect. “We’ve improved that 100 year old techonolgy dramatically And with GE we combined another source of storing energy – their ultracapacitator.”

Whartman gave a brief lesson in describing the two features in electric propulsion – energy and power – concepts than many people often confuse.

“Energy determines how far you go, and Power determines how fast you get there and how fast you can accelerate on the way. In transportation you need both. Our bus is like mixing the tortoise and the hare. We provide the energy that enables the tortoise to travel methodically for as long as it takes, while the ultracapacitator enables the power for the bus to travel quickly despite the energy demands. When you’re going uphill in the summer with 80 passengers, you need that spurt of power.It’s the Ultimate in both sources- highest energy cocktail,” said Whartman.

Rather than focusing on private automobiles, such as those working on hydrogen fuel technology, Arotech specifically targeted the bus industry for a number of reasons.

** Busses travel where you want to clean the air the most – in downtown areas.

** They travel in the worst possible cycles – stop and go

** They travel all the time – unlike cars which sit in parking lots 90% of the time.

** They’re purchased by one entity – a state or a city, and funding usually comes from the government.

** Busses are not made in Detroit, so the auto industry is not being confronted head on.

Arotech recently announced Phase IV of the FTA Zero emission zinc-air bus project which will explore steps necessary for commercializing the all-electric zinc-air/ultra capacitor hybrid bus.

“It’s true that many people are touting hydrogen fuel as the fuel of the future, and President Bush has declared the next generation to be the hydrogen generation and earmarked millions in funds for its development,” said Whartman. “The only problem here is that nobody knows when it will be available. We’re looking at 20 years. We’re offering a down to earth solution that’s ready to use. One of our advantages is that it’s a simple technology.”

And anybody who boards the bus in Schenectady on Thursday will be able to see the results for themselves.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director