MONTREAL - Bombardier's electric transit technology will be tested next winter on buses in Montreal, followed in early 2014 on an urban route used by passengers in the German city of Mannheim.
The transportation giant's Primove technology is designed to allow buses to be charged by underground induction stations when they stop to let passengers hop on and off.
Small amounts of energy emitted from an electromagnetic field are used to quickly charge batteries on the bus and propel it to the next power source. It removes the need for lengthy overnight plug-ins, allowing the buses to remain longer on the road and be outfitted with lighter and smaller batteries.
Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) will test the technology in Canada's harsh winter conditions at a special track on Ile-Ste-Helene, the home of Expo 67, in partnership with Hydro-Quebec and an undisclosed bus manufacturer.
"We want to test the equipment in the most difficult conditions that you could have with our climate, meaning winter," spokesman Marc Laforge said in an interview.
While Germany will test the system using buses filled with passengers, there are no immediate plans to do so in Canada.
Laforge said Bombardier is nearing agreement with a bus manufacturer for projects in North America after Nova Bus, the Quebec-based subsidiary of Volvo Buses, decided not to pursue the required research and development.
While Germany's testing is further advanced, having a bus partner in North America should pave the way for finding a transit operator to push the project towards commercialization.
"We've got four to five projects under way," Laforge said. "They are not all at the same level. Germany (most developed) . . . most probably Canada being second and we've got other ones."
German bus riders will get the first hands-on opportunity to see the electric buses in action during a 12-month trial beginning in the second quarter of 2014.
Regional operator Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH (RNV) will test the new technology along one of its inner city routes. Germany's federal Ministry of Transport is providing 3.3 million euros ($4.4 million) to four project partners — RNV, the city of Mannheim, Bombardier Transportation and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
Two buses outfitted with units under the floor of the vehicles will get charged by underground induction energy transfer stations each time they stop along the route. Laforge said the underground charges are safe for people passing over them.
The buses built by the Swiss manufacturer Carrosserie HESS AG will also be equipped with Bombardier's new Mitrac powertrain for city buses. An electric van equipped with the Primove technology will also be tested as a RNV service vehicle.
The Germany team said the project will help to determine a framework for infrastructure, batteries, inductive energy transfer and daily operation by testing the new technology on a real-life route.
“We aim to expand public transport’s competitive edge in efficiency by putting the technology of inductively charged electric buses through its paces on a demanding city route and thereby proving its suitability for everyday use,” RNV technical director Martin in der Beek said a news release Monday.
Laforge said the technology could be attractive for governments looking to electrifying transit systems without installing overhead wires.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois hailed the electrification of transit as a vision for the 21st century. She recently said such a move would reduce greenhouse gases and allow for the replacement of $30 million of crude oil that is imported daily, mostly for transportation.
“Imagine if, instead of using imported oil, our transit systems used a form of energy made right here in Quebec: electricity. It would mean billions of dollars more being invested here every year," she said in a speech last week.
The province has created a $200-million clean transportation fund.
The Primove technology, in development for more than five years, needs to be tested before it is sold commercially to transit systems.
Laforge said there's a huge potential market for use of the technology by buses, but said it won't reduce the demand for light rail or subway systems that are directly supplied by Bombardier.
"Every means of transportation serves a different objective," he said.
Bombardier is the world's largest manufacturer of railway systems. Primove could also be used on its tramway and light rail units, and theoretically for cars.