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Evidence of meeting #41 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was electric.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean-Pierre Baracat  Vice-President, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.
René Allen  Vice-President , Product Management and Strategy, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.
Chris Stoddart  Vice-President of Engineering, New Flyer Industries Inc.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

The one technology, the one alternative, that you use the most is hybrid. But the new area is really electric battery-charged buses. Am I correct on that?

What do you need to massively expand the electric? Is it the charging? We will probably hear from Israel, for example, on the way they charge their cars. Is it charging stations that are most difficult right now? What is the area where you think it could grow the most? It's not natural gas, right? It's mostly the electric cars. Am I correct in that?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.

Jean-Pierre Baracat

What we see is that the electric buses are going to be probably the propulsion of choice in the future. It's not something that is readily available right now. Right now, as we mentioned earlier, the challenge is with the batteries. The autonomy for the vehicles is not as high as you would get on a normal vehicle. On a normal transit bus in heavy operations, like the big cities, the bus will operate for 20 hours a day.

With batteries today, there isn't a possibility to power the bus for that long. In terms of technology, yes, we'll have to figure out—and that's what I think Chris was referring to—how we charge those vehicles. Do we keep them charged? Do we have all the capacity on the bus to keep them running for the 20 hours? Or do we do opportunity charging, so whenever we get a chance we give them a jolt of power to keep them running for the rest of the day?

Right now this technology is still emerging. We need to have some breakthroughs on the battery side, and we need to have some sort of standardization, although we can have a modular design for the different types of applications for electric buses.

The other technologies, like CNG, etc, are existing fuels and not something that really is a breakthrough in technology. It is something that is really an alternative to diesel, but not necessarily more environmentally friendly than the current fuels.

I don't know if that answers your question.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Yes, it does.

Is it the same on your side?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President of Engineering, New Flyer Industries Inc.

Chris Stoddart

It's fairly similar.

We've really seen a spike in CNG sales. One of them is disproportionate, because we just happened to have a big customer in New York who bought a lot. I'm not sure that's necessarily indicative of a market trend, but definitely we're seeing a lot more major U.S. cities purchase CNG.

I think it's just frankly the cost of CNG right now. It's so much cheaper. It's in abundance. So they're willing to pony up and put the infrastructure in place, but it's.... We have had a noticeable increase in CNG.

My comments on the electric bus are really very similar. I think we want to remain, as a bus provider, sort of battery-agnostic and somewhat charger-agnostic. We believe there will be different types of suppliers of batteries that we want to make sure will work on our buses, and different types of charging systems.

Again, take the last three customers we talked to. We had one customer who said, “I want lots of batteries on my bus so I can go all day.” We had another customer who said, “Hey, I'm at an airport; I want very little batteries, because I can do induction charging and give it spot charges throughout the whole day. It's only going to go around terminals and rental cars.” We had another customer who said, “You know what? If you can recharge twice on a route for five minutes and get yourself two hours' worth of operations, I'm happy with that.”

We would want to be flexible to all of those needs.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

So on the natural gas one, there's no real new technology. It's really that the price is right. It's low and that's why people buy them.

How many do we have in Canada? Do you make any of the natural gas buses in Canada? Are you the company?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President of Engineering, New Flyer Industries Inc.

Chris Stoddart

We do sell CNG buses in Canada, but you know, I'm not sure. It's a lower percentage certainly than what we're seeing in the U.S.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Is it the same for you?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.

Jean-Pierre Baracat

On our side, we're not selling any CNG buses in Canada.

The volume is really very low on the Canadian side. We are seeing some transit systems interested in getting CNG buses, but I think really the drive there is that it's considered a local fuel rather than an imported fuel, very often.

That's also very much the drive in the United States. It's promoted mostly as a local fuel and a way to reduce the dependency on foreign imports and Middle Eastern fuel imports.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Monsieur Coderre.

June 5th, 2012 / 9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning to the witnesses. We have been discussing alternative technologies for a few months and I am realizing that, regarding buses, diesel is disappearing and that increasingly we only have two choices left. The choice is between using electricity and natural gas, but the future seems to lie with electricity.

Representatives from the Société de transport de Montréal explained to us that there is a plan for 2025 and that the future of this is being discussed.

Mr. Baracat, is one of the problems that there is a lack of harmonization in the agreement between Canada and Europe? Things could progress much faster if we had that harmonization of standards, especially in terms of motors. Does this act as an obstacle to electrification?

9:20 a.m.

Vice-President, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.

Jean-Pierre Baracat

In fact, it is not quite related to electrification. It is more current technologies, so those that concern diesel motors. If we didn't have to develop different solutions and obtain different certifications for each country, we could invest more money in research and development.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

You don't want to sell your diesel buses here.

9:20 a.m.

Vice-President, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.

Jean-Pierre Baracat

We have to realize that we will continue to use diesel for a while. Indeed, it will be more difficult to convert some applications to electricity. For example, for long distances between cities where a lot of power is needed, we will keep vehicles with diesel motors. However, we believe that among emerging technologies, electric vehicles are the technology of the future.

To date, there have been all sorts of attempts. We are trying to have similar solutions to electric vehicles. We are ripe for advancing what exists now, but we need a real breakthrough with storage elements to have greater power density with these batteries.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

What I haven't managed to understand since the beginning, is that

you spoke about VHS and Beta; now it's Blu-ray, by the way. I don't understand why the hell we can't manage those batteries. We go to space, but we have a problem with a charging device.

What's wrong? Why? Is there a lack of funding for R and D? No. We already invest in that through Industry Canada. You have the private sector, which is putting some money in—you have Magna; you have another company, I think in Boucherville. There is an issue with lithium, and all that.

I don't understand. Why do we have problems with those batteries? Is it lobbyists?

9:20 a.m.

Vice-President of Engineering, New Flyer Industries Inc.

Chris Stoddart

I may want to clarify what I meant, at least from my perspective, when I said there were problems with batteries.

There is lots of charging technology out there, and it all works and works very well. It's just a question of coming to a common approach or a standard for the method. There aren't even defined regulations for the heavy-duty, high-voltage charging that we're dealing with.

As I said, you have some people developing automation to do a rapid exchange, such as a gas station that takes the batteries out and puts them in. We don't really think that's viable. Again, you'll have some people who think that induction charging is the way to go, whereby your charging system is built into the road and there are no wires and nothing to attach. You have some people who say, have it overhead—you come up to a bus stop, and then something comes up and attaches for five minutes and comes down. Again, some people are trying to develop state-of-the-art plug-ins. It's a question of coming to what the best approach is or funnelling it down. If you go to an electric vehicle convention right now, most of what you see is different companies promoting different charging technologies.

So there's lots of battery technology. It continues to improve each year. The metric, I guess, is how much a kilowatt hour costs today. It's almost $500 to $1,000 per kilowatt hour.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

You work in engineering. Obviously, there is the reality of the Canadian climate. If we want it to be by induction, without really knowing how things can work.... Induction can be chosen or another way of doing things can be found. Power lines can be brought back and all the environmentalists will be against you because they don't look nice.

What is the compromise? What must we do? Does the future lie with some hybrid version? Or do we choose the natural gas and electricity mix? Or will we keep diesel anyway, in urban or rural settings? Is that it, in the end? There is no one solution, it's—

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President , Product Management and Strategy, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.

René Allen

This is an ongoing question. We talked about diesel earlier. Concerning internal-combustion engines, there will be changes in the sense that the size of the engine will always decrease. In spite of that, we will keep it to maintain that autonomy. As you can see, out of today's vehicles, the Volt is the most versatile. Why? Because it has a small combustion engine. With that, it can travel long distances.

What we are going to see is that engines will shrink. Also, carbon-neutral fuels will be sought. A lot of development on that is being done. Even though more is being done in Europe than here, Canada is well placed, thanks to timber and residues, to try to make a carbon-neutral fuel. That is one of the avenues. We see, given this roadmap, that there is always an internal-combustion engine.

Concerning batteries, and to answer the question about what the related problem is, I would say that it is energy density. In a tank with 400 litres of diesel, there is a huge amount of energy. That is why the internal-combustion engine has been so popular. The electric motor existed in 1910 because the energy density was not there to ensure flexibility for transportation. Today, the problem is very chemical and physical. With the materials and chemicals available to us, there is a limit to the quantity of energy we can put into a—

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Our committee must make recommendations. You spoke of harmonization, for example with Europe, regarding diesel motors. That could allow you to put more money into research and development. I too find that it is ongoing because you are private companies.

If you had one recommendation to make on regulations and another on the role of government in terms of this future, what would you say to the members of the committee, with an eye to their report, concerning replacement technologies?

I would like to hear from Mr. Allen, Mr. Baracat and Mr. Stoddart.

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President , Product Management and Strategy, Business Development, Nova Bus, a Division of Volvo Group Canada, Inc.

René Allen

First of all, we need to establish a charging standard. A lot of money will be spent on different technologies. Today, there are Beta, VHS and Blu-ray formats. There isn't enough energy on board and we need to add some. But how do we do that? It's as if you couldn't put the same nozzle in all vehicles; it would be very complicated. We have to work not only on how to plug it in but also on protocols.

Second of all, there needs to be as much help as possible for storage elements. Currently, the Chinese are in the lead on this. It is very important. They are working a lot on it, but there are huge resources in Canada in terms of batteries that will allow us to create new chemistries, new technologies so that storage elements are more effective and denser. That would help a lot.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Do you have a comment?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President of Engineering, New Flyer Industries Inc.

Chris Stoddart

My comments will be very similar. The support of battery technology, I think, is huge, as is the funding for the charging.

I guess the only other thing is that maybe it's a little bit broader, but as we begin to manage batteries, there will be a useful life, maybe six or seven years, for batteries in a transit bus application. But when they're done, I think working with local utilities, if they don't have to have the constant charge-discharge, there will still be much of a useful life after that from a bus perspective.

It could go elsewhere to store energy. As we think about things like school buses that only operate twice a day, if they were to go in a battery mode, how might we use those batteries to store energy in a different way? It's the same thing. What could be a post-life application for batteries after being used in a transit vehicle or even an automobile? I have to believe there's a way to make good use of that. You end up getting many years of life out of batteries.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Mr. Toet.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our guests today.

I have a couple questions with regard to electric buses. I guess I want to start with the size of the electric buses that both of your companies have right now. Are these 30-, 35-, or 40-foot buses? What size are the electric buses that you're producing today?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President of Engineering, New Flyer Industries Inc.

Chris Stoddart

I'll start. It's on our 40-foot platform, so our intent would be to offer it in 35-, 40-, and 60-foot platforms. I guess, ultimately, that mini-bus that I was talking about, the smaller one, there's no reason it wouldn't migrate to that. I think it'd be a very good application, too.

I guess, essentially, the short answer is that all of our buses will be on a propulsion system in the future, but we're launching it on the 40-foot.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

What's the range of that bus, currently?