HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the premises of Vantage Power to learn about how its diesel-electric repower is going, which will see the first conversion enter service in London ‘within weeks’
Vantage Power had two things to celebrate on Monday (20 February).
Not only are the first buses re-engineered with its B320 diesel-electric power pack about to enter service, but its Greenford premises also hosted HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, who was told of the young business’ plans.
“Vantage started as two young guys with an idea. Now we employ nearly 40 people,” says CEO Alex Schey of a company that was founded in 2011.
What Vantage does is simple, even if the B320 hardware is not: It takes buses with a diesel driveline and reengineers them with a novel hybrid power pack. On urban work that cuts fuel consumption by 40%, and allows up to 4km of engine-off operation.
While fuel savings were initially the main attraction, that has changed more recently, says Chief Technical Officer Toby Schulz.
The B320 package’s impact on air quality has aroused interest at Transport for London (TfL), and six older double-deckers are in the process of being fitted with the hybrid unit. The first, for Go-Ahead London, will re-enter service “within weeks,” he says.
Besides the fuel saving, Vantage promises that around 40% of buses with the B320 will spend 40% of their in-service time with the engine off.
Areas where they operate in zero emission mode can be geo-fenced, and Mr Schulz explains that the software ensures that the battery is fully charged before entering them. Depending on the route profile, that may involve running the engine at full power for a period on approach.
The B320 components mount on existing points within the engine bay – another of its key points – and although the trial buses are taking some time to convert, Mr Schulz says that when the process is in full flow it will be possible to do the job – and have the bus back in service – in a week.
Power is from a four-cylinder Cummins ISB engine. The trial conversions use a Euro 5 unit, but Vantage is planning a Euro 6 upgrade for future conversions.
The battery has a capacity of 15kW/hr and Vantage is confident that it will have a life of seven years. A Magtec 170kW motor is fitted, and buses’ original drive axle is retained. Two radiators are used: One for engine coolant and one for battery coolant.
The clever bit
Electric fans are used on both radiators, but the conversion process does not electrify all auxiliaries. As a result, the hydraulic pump is retained, and Vantage has come up with a clever solution to allow it to work when the engine is off.
A coupling sits between the engine and generator, and when the former is switched off, the coupling disengages.
The generator then ‘reverses’ to power the hydraulic pump and ensure that auxiliaries such as power steering remain fully functional.
All of the six trial conversions are Volvo B7TL chassis, but Mr Schulz says that after they are complete a B9TL will be treated; it will also be the first repower to receive a Euro 6 engine.
Following that, an Alexander Dennis Enviro400 will be converted. While the B7TL is fading out of London, the B9TL and Enviro400 are destined to remain present in large numbers for many years yet, and that will give Vantage a huge pool of buses for potential future B320 conversions.
An integral part of the package is remote diagnostics. It flags up warnings in real time through fleet management software.
Into service very soon
Go-Ahead London will soon place the first Vantage repower into service. A 2002 bus, it will be used from New Cross and Stockwell garages on a variety of work, in both the central area and the suburbs, to evaluate its performance.
Vantage has confirmed that buses’ passenger capacity is not affected by the conversion work, and that is something that it regards as important.
It provides a two-year warranty on the power pack, but the batteries remain in its ownership. The operator pays a per-month fee for their use (regardless of mileage) and at the end of their life they are replaced by Vantage.
The cost of conversion is around the £75,000 mark, says Mr Schulz, and he believes that when the potential for a 40% reduction in fuel consumption is taken into account, that makes the B320 commercially viable.
Vantage’s B320 repower concept has taken some time to come to market, but it looks like it has been worth the wait.
Within weeks, the first such bus will enter service in London. Sadiq Khan’s obsession with air quality combined with TfL’s budgetary constraints means that it’s unlikely that all of the Mayor’s commitments to improving the capital’s bus fleet will be accomplished with new stock. That is Vantage’s opportunity.
But it’s not all about London in the long term. Vantage says that the B320 is commercially viable, particularly in buses that may be approaching an age where they may need engine and/or gearbox replacement. It ticks both the political and, when at Euro 6, the environmental boxes.