Schunk charging systems ensure the reliable use of electric buses throughout the world. County Mayor Anita Schneider and members of the Climate Protection and Energy Advisory Council of the District of Gießen got first-hand information on the state of the art technology and its advantages during a visit to the Wettenberg site.
At the Schunk Group, electro-mobility is no longer a dream of the future but an established business unit. The technology group is the world leader in the production of fully automated charging systems for electric buses. Smart Charging is the name of the technology in which Schunk has translated its decades of experience in the construction of pantographs for electric locomotives into a simple and reliable charging system for electric buses. For short stops, such as at the terminal stop, or when parking overnight in the bus depot, a pantograph automatically lifts up from the bus roof, contacts a charging hood above the bus and supplies the batteries with energy through high power transfer. This provides enough energy for the next tour. The big advantage: Long charging times are eliminated and the batteries can be much smaller in size. Above all, electrical energy does not have to be used to lug the heavy and currently expensive batteries around.
Global leader for Charging Systems
“Our technology has long outgrown its infancy and is being deployed globally,” explained Dr. Jan Gupta, member of the management of the Schunk Group and responsible for the Division Schunk Carbon Technology, to the guests. In addition to County Mayor Anita Schneider, District Council Chairman Karl-Heinz Funck; members of the Wettenberg Advisory Board Mayor Thomas Brunner, Gerhard Schmidt and Prof. Eckhard Wiederuh; Head of the Department of Economic Affairs and Energy, Dr. Manfred Felske-Zech; and the Climate Protection Manager Sonja Minke also visited Schunk’s Wettenberg location. With Smart Charging, the technology company has the most experience worldwide with charging systems for buses and is therefore the preferred partner for electric bus manufacturers and local authorities – more than 300 buses are now using Schunk technology, Dr. Gupta pointed out to illustrate the success of innovation. “Electric buses are an important topic for Schunk. The world market is developing very positively; therefore, we are confident and are anticipating positive development for the Wettenberg location, where the production of Smart Charging is located” Dr. Gupta explained.
Flagship Project in Eindhoven
The largest fleet of electric buses in Europe operates in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. 43 vehicles are in operation here – all equipped with a Schunk roof charging pantograph. “Eindhoven is a flagship project in the industry,” explained Paulo Santos, Managing Director of Schunk Bahn- und Industrietechnik (Railway and Industrial Technology) and responsible for Smart Charging. Traffic planners from all over the world have come to the Dutch city to see the electric buses and the charging systems in everyday use. The special thing about this: The operator of the bus fleet is a private transport company; there was no support for the buses. “The operator therefore decided against modern diesel buses and was in support of electric buses. It shows how confident the technology is,” Santos went on to explain. In fact, the availability of buses is over 99 percent, and thus above the comparable value of most diesel buses. In addition, it can be seen that electric buses, which are currently even more expensive to purchase than diesel buses, are also competitively priced over their entire service life. The same operator is currently preparing to inaugurate a rapid bus connection between Amsterdam and Schiphol Airport – a total of 100 electric buses will bring passengers from the Dutch capital to Europe's third-largest airport beginning in 2018.
Smart Charging is in use not only in the Netherlands, but around the globe, from Winnipeg to Barcelona to Helsinki. In Putrajaya near Kuala Lumpur, a technical variant is used in which buses are recharged exclusively at the terminal stop instead of overnight in the depot. For this so-called opportunity charging, the Malaysian administrative center is the largest application in Asia so far.
But electric buses with charging technology from Schunk are also on the roads in Germany, even if the ratios are still not quite as they are in Eindhoven or soon to be in Amsterdam. The largest project for Schunk is in Cologne, where eight buses run electrically using Schunk technology. Based on the good experience they have had, the city wants to purchase another 50 buses. Wiesbaden will be taking on a pioneering role in the transition to electric buses in the coming years. The Hessian state capital intends to purchase 55 electric buses per year starting in 2018 until the entire bus fleet is electrified in 2021 with 220 buses. Thus, Wiesbaden would be the first European city with completely electric bus service. “Of course, we hope that our direct customers – the manufacturers of electric buses – will come into play here and that Schunk technology will also ensure a reliable charging infrastructure in Wiesbaden,” said Santos confidently.
Considerable Interest among Guests
These comments on the state of electric buses and on the marketability of Schunk's charging technology met with great interest among the District Administrator and the Climate Protection and Energy Council – in particular because electro-mobility was part of the master plan for the regional development of the Districts of Gießen, Marburg-Biedenkopf and Lahn-Dill. Within this framework, a study is currently being carried out into how electro-mobility can be implemented in the region. This study aims to identify suitable locations for the nationwide expansion of charging stations for cars and to develop climate-friendly mobility concepts for commercial areas. “It is not our goal to change only the mode of driving. There should also be a shift to more climate-friendly modes of transport. In particular, public transportation plays an important role,” emphasized District Administrator Schneider. “That's why we're investigating the possibilities for electrification of bus transportation in the Giessen, Marburg and Wetzlar regional centers.”
Not Only for Electric Buses
At Schunk, however, they do not just think about buses. “Basically, Smart Charging is suitable for all vehicles that regularly run on fixed routes and are able to make short charging stops,” explained Santos. The Finnish port supplier Kalmar is currently offering all-electric crane vehicles that handle containers in terminals. A charging station by Schunk is installed on the working route of this Shuttle Carrier, so that the vehicle can ‘refuel’ enough electricity for the next working cycle within three minutes when necessary. Similarly, the system can be used in ground vehicles at airports or battery-powered mining vehicles. A first driverless mine vehicle with Smart Charging is already being tested; the customer has ordered additional systems for testing purposes.
Charging Systems for Electric Cars, Too?
And the Wettenbergers are planning even further into the future. Electro-mobility promises to be dynamic over the next few years, but the course for further development is far from over. “We are watching very closely the way charging technology is developing for electric cars,” said Santos. With its charging technology, Schunk has a lot of experience in achieving high power transfer in just a few seconds. In other words: with Schunk technology, vehicles are charged faster than via a charging plug. “This offers many possibilities for recharging electric vehicles,” says Santos, who can imagine bringing Schunk's know-how into automated charging systems for electric cars. “We are already thinking in this direction and have made interesting contacts with American start-up companies for autonomous driving, who also want to fully automate the charging process.” However, with the widespread use of charging systems for electric cars, the power grids would increasingly come to the fore: Because they are not currently designed for high charging performance. “Here, politics certainly has the task of initiating structural development at an early stage,” Schneider said.