Lithium titanate batteries would be cool if they were cool, but they aren’t, so they’re not.
Not yet. Maybe soon.
Sure, we’ve heard that before. Three years is a long time to wait. But, if patience pays it just might happen. Our Link Transit buses will run loops powered by the highest of high-tech lithium batteries, quickly charged, light and long-lasting, and it will be very good. We the public owners of Link Transit will be breakthrough pioneers, reduce our contribution of greenhouse gases, save a great deal of money, be the envy of the public transit world and the object of global admiration.
Or maybe not.
Dig back into your public affairs memory. Somewhere back there is the beginning of the story. In 2010 Link Transit received a $2.9 million federal stimulus grant to purchase five battery-powered trolleys with high-tech rapid chargers. The buses would carry cutting-edge liquid-cooled lithium titanate batteries designed by a company named Ebus, of Downey, Calif. The buses were supposed to be delivered in July of 2010, said Link General Manager Richard DeRock.
If the system worked, it would be the first in the world. Link would lead a technological breakthrough. The project genuinely held great promise, and not just from the techno whiz-bang standpoint. These lithium titanate batteries can be charged quickly, which has distinct advantages. If the system works, a Link electric trolley can be fully charged in 10 minutes. So, in less than coffee break a trolley could take on enough energy to power its way through Wenatchee’s 3.6 mile circular downtown route, fully loaded, with the air conditioner going full blast, and make it back to the quick charger at Columbia Station with power to spare.
Perfect, but the engineers couldn’t quite make it work, then delay, delay, and more delay. The last time we checked the new buses were to be delivered by April. They weren’t. Ebus then told Link to expect the first buses this month. “Honestly, I don’t expect them here,” said DeRock. They promised to have all five buses working by Dec. 1. That may be optimistic.
The chargers work. They are up and running. The trouble apparently is with the cooling system for the batteries, which has proven difficult to perfect. It’s crucial, because this cooling system allows the bus to use fewer batteries, which makes the buses lighter, faster to charge, and far less expensive.
Relax, if you think this delay is a drain on our local taxes. Link is running the downtown route with two diesel trolleys, and two electric trolleys powered by less-powerful nickel cadmium batteries. From the beginning, Ebus has agreed to cover Link’s added costs. It is paying for the fuel for the diesel trolleys. It is paying the salary of the Link project manager. Recently, it agreed to pay for replacements for the diesel trolleys that now have reached the end of their smoky lives.
The Link board recently considered the situation. “They are so far behind we could clearly declare the project a failure,” said DeRock. But, “Ebus, they’ve taken all the risks for us. The board said let’s continue to give them a chance.”
“We want it to work, and it shows a lot of promise,” DeRock said.
Link has lost nothing, not even its patience. The federal grant administrators say that even with delays, this project is still ahead of everyone else, so “They aren’t worried,” DeRock said. Ebus appears to be working not for subsidies, but with the old-fashioned profit motive. If Wenatchee succeeds, the potential is enormous. Two delegations from Shanghai, China have been here to look it over, said DeRock.
We can still dream. An electric trolley with these batteries costs $375,000; a diesel trolley, about $500,000. A diesel uses $1,200 in fossil fuel every month; an electric, about $100 in carbon-free renewable kilowatt hours.
Link is right. We should be patient. If it works, great.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.