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Swinburne helps develop electric bus

On the buses: The Malaysian bus system looks set to go green with AutoCRC confirming a project that between research institutions, governments and companies that will produce an all-electric bus.

Local automotive ‘gems’ contribute to Australia/Malaysia bus in $170 million project

General News logo30 Dec 2014

By IAN PORTER

AUSTRALIA’S AutoCRC (Cooperative Research Centre) has helped stitch together an ambitious project that will design and develop electric buses, initially for use in Malaysia.

The project is the latest development involving the AutoCRC and its Malaysian collaborative partner, the Malaysian Automotive Institute (MAI).

Swinburne University and two private companies will join with the two research bodies to design and develop two prototype buses, the first of which will be trialed in Malaysia starting in September 2015.

The project was initiated from the Malaysian side as the Malaysian Government has laid down plans for the establishment of an electric bus public transport system, including recharging stations.

The electric bus project has a budget of around 500 million ringgit ($A170 million).

Queensland bus manufacturer Bustech, part of the Transit Australia Group, will lead the bus design and manufacturing aspects of the project.

It is the only company in Australia that makes a space-frame bus, while other manufacturers produce bodies to place on ladder frames made by the drivetrain companies.

The second Malaysian entity in the project is logistics company Arca Corporation. Arca is planning to spend 200 million ringgit ($A70.3 million) to help develop a new lithium-ion battery with a higher power density so Malaysia can start making its own batteries for future transport needs.

AutoCRC director of research Gary White said the new project is a great example of the way AutoCRC helps develop partnerships between universities and industry.

“At Swinburne we have a core team using both scientists and ex-automotive industry people,” he said.

“They are doing the battery spec, the battery requirements for the bus, the integration of the power into the bus and the control systems.

“Everything will have to be electric, as there will be no drive from a diesel engine’s crankshaft. Everything needs to be electric, whether it’s the compressor for the air brakes, the air-conditioning or the power steering.”

At the Queensland end of the project, Bustech will be the engineering lead on the rolling chassis, responsible for the design of the body/space-frame structure and the integration of all the hardware into that structure.

Dr White said there would be constant liaison between the Swinburne group, the Bustech operation in Queensland and the Malaysian Automotive Institute He said Bustech was already well advanced on lightweight design and construction methods, cladding its buses with composite panels and using lightweight seat frames.

“The Swinburne team are getting involved with Bustech regularly, and the Bustech people getting involved with the university researchers, who are looking at the next-generation technology plan, developing the technologies for the bus so that it is leading edge, and future-proofed.

“It’s a really good model,” Dr White said.

He said the project was benefitting greatly from having access to engineers who, until recently, worked for the three local car-makers – Ford, Holden and Toyota – and in the automotive supply chain.

“These guys are like gems, and by putting them into these types of environments, we can actually push the envelope, we can actually develop new technologies.

“The lean approach, the engineering program, product development process that the car companies have trained these people in is invaluable for any product development.

“And these guys see this as exciting, because it is a largely autonomous, Australian effort.”

Bustech chief executive Michael McGee said the company had been studying how to get into electric buses but it would not have been able to get into it “at this level” on its own.

He said the project would take Bustech into new areas that would position the company as a leader in the use of renewable energy for buses.

“While car manufacturing facilities are closing down around Australia, we are proving that we can develop high-end bus manufacturing right here on the Gold Coast,” Mr McGee said.

Bustech will develop two different electric buses, one using “standard” electric drivetrains components and an advanced design that will be “completely revolutionary”.

“We don’t want to jump straight from zero to where we want to go.”

It is believed the project will be tapping into some new battery chemistry being developed by the University of Wollongong and the University of Technology in Sydney, both of which are allied to the AutoCRC.

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