Milton Keynes, UK, Launches Wirelessly-Charged Electric Bus Route

The British town of Milton Keynes in England is famous for many things, including its concrete cows, massive number of roundabouts its grid-based street system (unusual for England) and its close proximity to Bletchley Park, the former top-secret home of the UK’s WWII top-secret GCCS code-breaking centre.

Now it has another claim to fame: the first place in the UK to run an all-electric bus route powered by wireless charging technology.

Unveiled this morning by Baroness Kramer, the UK’s Minister of State for Transport, eight electric busses will take over duties on the Number 7 route in Milton Keynes, covering a 15-mile end-to-end route between the suburbs of Wolverton and Bletchley. Charged overnight using standard conductive charging methods at the bus depot, each bus is also fitted with a wireless charging receiver underneath the body of the bus.

The busses can be charged one of two ways: using an overnight wired connection, or an inductive fast-charge.

The busses can be charged one of two ways: using an overnight wired connection, or an inductive fast-charge.

At each end of the route, the bus driver parks the bus over specially-installed inductive charging stations placed into the road, and engages a switch on the dash to lower wireless charging receiver mounted under the bus so that it is within 40 mm (1.5 inches) of the road.  This feature not only ensures maximum power efficiency during charging, but also ensures the receiver plate on the bottom of the bus can be fully retracted for travel, protecting it from damage while driving.

In the ten minutes allocated for scheduled driver breaks, enough power can be transferred into the busses’ battery pack  to account for two-thirds of the power needed for the 15 mile route.

When it reaches the other extreme of the route, the process is repeated before it starts over, allowing the busses to run for the full 17 hour schedule the Number 7 bus runs, without affecting the schedule.  At the end of the day, the busses return to the depot for an overnight full charge using a conventional wired charging station.

The pilot project, managed by the European arm of Japanese firm Mitsu and UK engineering firm Arup in a joint venture called MBK Arup Sustainable Projects, will run for the next five years on the Number 7 bus route. If it proves successful, the wireless charging project could be expanded to cover more routes in the area.

To mark the launch of the scheme, Arup has produced the following informative infographic comparing the new electric busses to their diesel-powered predecessors.

The new busses have the potential to dramatically reduce Milton Keynes' CO2 output.

The new busses have the potential to dramatically reduce Milton Keynes’ CO2 output.

As well as reducing noise pollution, (the electric busses are four times as quiet as their diesel brethren for pedestrians and twice as quite as diesel busses for passengers inside them) Arup says the wireless-charging busses could save up to 269 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year over similarly-sized diesel busses.

They will also carry an estimated 775,000 passengers a year a total of  450,000 miles, saving a total of 686 tonnes of CO2 compared with the 484,000 car journeys needed were the route not in operation.

“Electric buses’ physical and economic potential has historically been sidelined because no one could see around the range problem associated with the batteries.,” said Prof. John Miles of Cambridge University, Arup consultant and director of the wireless electric bus programme.  “Wireless charging can bring electric buses in from the cold, and potentially put them neck-and-neck with their diesel counterparts. If we can demonstrate true parity with diesel buses during this trial, we’ll have reached a tipping point for low-carbon transport – we’ll have proved it can be cost-effective as well as green.” 

While this isn’t the first electric bus route in the country — we know of electric bus pilot projects dating back more than ten years and London has recently began its own electric bus scheme — it is the first bus we know of in the UK which has combined the convenience of wireless charging en-route and the cost-effectiveness of conductive charging at night.

We, like many others, will be watching the progression of this project with interest. In the meantime, if you want to experience the busses first hand, you can always head down to Milton Keynes and hail the Number 7 for yourself.  You’ll find the bus timetable on the local Arriva bus website.


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