LNG propelled medium and heavy CVs are likely to change the game. They are expected to triumph over CVs propelled by conventional fuels, and could provide the advantage of cost among others. More pure than CNG, and requiring a storage tank that is almost equivalent the diesel tank in a CV, LNG infrastructure could be easily developed with the help of cyrogenic tankers and LNG dispensing stations across highways at reasonable distances. A spanner in the works however could be the lack of cryogenic tank makers and suppliers, cite Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) sources. Those who have the capability to produce cryogenic tanks may find it difficult to keep up with the demand, they aver. S.P. Singh, Senior Fellow & Coordinator, IFTRT, is of the opinion that the next five years should be fixed as the timeline, and CV makers should produce certain per centage of M&HCVs that run on LNG.
The display of people movers by Tata Motors at its Pune plant provided an opportunity to gaze into the future of public transportation mediums.
Story & photos: Ashish Bhatia
To gaze into the future is not easy. To gaze into the future of technology that will influence the transportation of masses is not easy. Tata Motors, at its Pune plant, provided an opportunity to look some of the most exciting buses that will define the future modes of transportation recently. It displayed its people mover range, starting from the alternate fuel Ace Magic to the flagship Starbus fuel cell bus concept. Guenter Butschek, CEO and Managing Director, Tata Motors, announced the launch of the Starbus Hybrid city bus on the occasion. A series hybrid city bus, modelled closely on the 10 Tata CNG hybrid city buses that are running on a route in Madrid, the capital city of Spain, the Starbus Hybrid will soon hit the roads of Mumbai, at the Bandra-Kurla Complex. They will ply between BKC and the nearby suburban rail stations of Sion, Kurla and Bandra. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has placed an order of 25 hybrid buses with Tata Motors under the FAME program. These buses will be operated by BEST. With the municipal elections in Mumbai drawing close, the first Starbus Hybrid, is expected to hit the BKC roads only after the elections are held and a new governing body comes to power.
For a democratic country like India, that is the second most populous in the world, and spread over an area of 3.287 million sq. km, the need is to move people in a manner that is well integrated. To ensure an integrated and efficient travel is a challenge. In his inaugural speech at the Busworld 2015, P S Ananda Rao, Executive Director, ASRTU, expressed the need to inculcat one-million busses immediately in addition to 7.5 lakh buses present (in the system) to address the need for people in the vast country to move. Highlighting the potential for rural connectivity, he mentioned that there is a need for 50,854 buses at 600 buses per 10 million rural population. According to a survey, claimed to be conducted by the government, over 50 per cent of the workforce continues to work at home or travel to their workplace by foot in the absence of adequate transport facilities. Many are largely dependent on private transport as the share of public transport is just 18.1 per cent of work trips. The data collected by the survey indicates that citizens are largely dependent on private modes of transport, such as bicycles (26.3 million) and motorcycles (25.4 million) in rural and urban India. In 2015 the number of daily trips using a motorcycle for commuting was 35 million (excluding personal trips).
Fuel cell bus
With a typical city bus expected to do 200 runs a day, it made for an interesting display of six most modern buses by Tata Motors including the BKC-bound Starbus Hybrid. All five buses were prototypes, and provided an opportunity to gaze into the future. The most interesting was the ‘Tata Starbus Fuel Cell bus’. This bus is said to be the country’s first ‘Fuel Cell’ bus. Touted as a zero emission mass transport solution for city travel, it was developed in partnership with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), and combines hydrogen gas and oxygen. The bus measures 12 m in length and is claimed to have a power output of 114 bhp. If the use of fuel cell technology results in 40-60 per cent efficiency in energy conversion over conventional diesel buses, the bus, based on the previous-generation LPO 1625 Starbus Fuel Cell bus concept, shares the platform with the Starbus Hybrid and Starbus Electric. Four hydrogen cylinders of 205 litre capacity each are placed in the roof casing. A longitudinally arranged hydrogen fuel cell power system at the rear produces electric energy (equivalent to 114 hp) via the Lithium-ion battery pack. The battery delivers power to a rear-axle mounted propulsion motor through a summation gearbox, resulting in a combined output of 250 hp and 1,050 Nm of torque at 800 rpm. Featuring independent pneumatic suspension with hydraulic double-acting telescopic shock absorbers, the fuel cell bus features pneumatic dual-circuit s-cam braking system, which is ABS assisted. The full low-floor bus can seat 30 passengers in air-conditioned comfort. Top speed is 70 kmph, and maximum gradeability is 17 percent.
The Tata Marcopolo urban 9/18 FE vestibule bus measures 18 m in length. It can carry 120 (including 50 seated) passengers, which is almost equivalent of two 12 m buses. Powering this bus is a Cummins 6.7-litre, 280 hp engine located at the front. Aimed at moving more people in less space (in a typical urban landscape), the vestibule bus has a compact turn circle and can be manoeuvred with ease. The turning radius of this bus is claimed to be no different than a regular bus. What makes the vestibule bus significant is the order Tata Motors bagged recently to supply 30 vestibule buses for the BRT corridor at Dharwad-Hubli. Each bus is said to cost Rs.1.6 crore, and will ply on a 22.2 km-long corridor.
Mini people movers
Standing out of the crowd of buses, the electric Super Ace, Magic and Magic Iris made for a portfolio of mini people movers that Tata Motors is working on. Albeit in an electric form, they are looked upon to play the role of a feeder vehicle and last mile transporter. Already a word in last mile connectivity, the electric forms of Super Ace, Magic and Magic Iris could well set a precedent in last mile connectivity for others to follow. Powering the Super Ace electric is a permanent magnet AC motor. Electricity is fed by a 20.7 kWh lithium-ion battery. The top speed of the CV is 80 kmph. The travel range is in the region of 100 kmph, and the rated payload is 600 kg against a GVW of 1750 kg. Magic electric contains 12.6 volt, 180 Ah batteries. Equipped with regenerative braking tech, the vehicle has a power rating of 15kW. It can reach a top speed of 40 kmph, and cover a distance of 50 km on a single charge. Battery takes eight to 12 hours to charge. The Magic Iris is powered by lithium-ion battery modules of 48 volt and 110 Ah capacity. Capable of ferrying four passengers, the traction motor of the Magic Iris is rated at 9 kW. Peak torque is 42 Nm. Capable of travelling 100 km on a single charge, the two battery modules of Magic Iris take eight hours to charge fully. The vehicle can be had with a 120 watt solar panel on the roof for supplementary charging, making it a first of its kind in its segment.
It was late last year that Tata Motors showcased a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) powered city bus based on its LPO1613 platform at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It did so in association with Petronet LNG Limited (PLL) and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. Displayed here, the bus, painted in an attractive shade of orange, was powered by a 5.7-litre BSIV engine that produces 130 hp of peak power at 2500 rpm and a peak torque of 405 Nm at 1250-1500 rpm. The LPO1613 chassis is built at the Lucknow plant, and the body is built at Marcopolo’s Dharwad plant. Dr. A K Jindal, Head – Engineering Research Centre, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, expressed that Kerala is keen to place an order for 10,000 buses, with 10 per cent of them, LNG powered. He added, “The supply constraints posed by CNG infrastructure makes LNG a logical extension. To increase the range of a CNG powered bus (from 300 km), more storage cylinders will be needed. This will adversely affect the power to weight ratio, payload capacity and seating capacity. LNG has a two-and-a-half times more per litre capacity than diesel. The range therefore will be between 600 to 700 km.” RT Wasan, Vice President – Sales and Marketing, Tata Motors, mentioned that cities are growing, leading to traffic congestion, in-turn bringing out a need to design different modes of public transportation. “The Urbanisation in India is skewed as compared to countries like China,” he added.
Buses for a greener tomorrow
As countries the world over seek greener ways of move people, putting impetus on alternate mediums of propulsion, it did not come as a surprise when Dr. Jindal stated that, there is a need to adopt a viable combination of fuel and vehicle technology. Stressing upon rapid urbanisation, Wasan said that there was a need to look at the mode of transport that would best suit the needs. This would call for lower investment in infrastructure, and relate to issues like direct health-cost of urban pollution, transport mortality, air quality, climate change and depleting natural resources, he added. With the rate of electric and hybrid technology penetration to be dictated by the pace of technological breakthrough and federal policies, it is essential to take into account a study conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), which projected average speeds across cities are falling. Said Wasan, “The government’s approach to building more roads looks contradictory to the need for facilitating an eco-system where sustained mobility coexists.” Wasan cited the example of Jakarta, the most populous city of Indonesia. He explained, “Families traveling in private vehicles are charged a levy for using the infrastructure. In such an instance, public transport provides the answers.” Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, expressed that December sales figures are a testimony to buses doing well. “We are doing well in buses,” he added. Pointing at State Transport Undertakings (STUs), Pisharody stated, “Buying is coming back and a lot of tenders are being floated as we speak. It is after a long time that buses have come into a space they deserve. The Indian economy does not support them.” Announced Butschek that the company’s aspiration is to be among the top three global CV players by FY2018-19. “The objective is to transform the Indian commercial vehicle landscape, and to offer the customers cutting edge auto technologies, packaged for superior performance and low lifecycle costs,” added Butschek.
Gazing into the future
Taking a holistic view, and as far as the application of technology is concerned, Dr. Jindal said that the reduction in battery costs is a positive sign. “Electrification does make an ideal choice for long haul or for heavy-duty application. The technology model is simply unsustainable, and would eat into the vehicle payload,” he mentioned. Electromobility, according to Dr. Jindal is suitable for vehicles that travel over shorter distances. Hybridisation, he added, is suitable for a medium-duty vehicle that travels over a medium distance. While the lifecycle cost is lowest in hybrid and electric vehicles, the major challenge for operators is the acquisition cost. It is two-to-three times higher than conventionally powered vehicles. A ray of hope according to Dr. Jindal, is if the government intervenes to make it feasible for new technology to embed itself sooner than later. Driving a frugal strategy, technology development at Tata Motors spans across diverse areas like vehicle control strategy, electric and hybrid vehicle battery development, traction system development, high voltage components and safety, Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH), durability testing, light weighting, and customer trials. A part of the strategy is also to build key components in-house. Fast charging batteries are being worked upon by using Lithium Titanate Oxide (LTO) technology. According to Dr. Jindal, the advantages of LTO are significant. This battery technology is considered to be a game changer. Working on a future ready product pipeline, Tata Motors, said Dr. Jindal, has already exceeded the 20 per cent fuel reduction target set by the FAME scheme of the Government of India towards encouraging electric vehicles. “ The need of the hour is to achieve a sustainable hub and spoke public transportation model for new technology mediums to find a place and grow,” signed off Dr. Jindal.
The art of designing
In what could be a rare occasion, Tata Motors provided an opportunity to peep into its design studio at Pune. It is the nerve centre, which brings a CV to life. A visual rendering undergoes several reiterations in a bid to refine the final layout of the vehicle before going into production. The entire process of the development of Starbus Hybrid was shown at the studio in steps that revealed the journey from the drawing board to a production model. Step one showed how the primary sketch of the bus was turned into a more definitive form. In consultation with different verticals at the OEM, it was further refined. The bis turned two dimensional. The next step saw the two dimensional form being shared with the three dimensional modelers to achieve a full scale three dimension model. This process, includes consulting the engineering team to work on areas like manufacturing, production and other. It is at this step that the creative team and the technical team come together. The rendered form begins acquiring details. Step three involves building a dummy model, which is handed over to the clay modelers. The clay modelers refine the surface. Stage four involves the task of transforming the clay model into data using a laser beam and camera based equipment. Refined surfaces are accurately captured. Controlling the hardware is Pollyworks’ software. Scans are transferred to a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) modeller. It is then sent to a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine to replicate the image of the model. The design process further evolves with the help of a Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). CAD is three-dimensional in a bid to bring more details on to the ideated sketch. Designers are encouraged to carry out an in-depth field research on public transportation in the country before they ideate a new concept. Designers also ensure that the new elements merge seamlessly with the standard design elements. This ensures that the result is in sync with the brand identity.
Tata Motors is bullish about LNG powered commercial vehicles.
Tata Motors showcased a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) powered bus at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, recently. It did so in association with Petronet LNG Limited (PLL) and the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. The bus is based on the Tata LPO1613 platform, which is currently available with a CNG engine. With plans being drawn to launch the LNG bus by April next year, it is clear that Tata Motors sees a good future for such buses. Expressed Dr. A K Jindal, Head – Engineering Research Centre, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, that Kerala is keen to place an order for 10,000 buses, with 10 per cent of them, LNG powered. The supply constraints posed by CNG infrastructure makes LNG a logical extension for CV manufacturers like Tata Motors, and the operators, it s clear. There are other issues too. “To increase the range of a CNG powered bus (from 300 km), more storage cylinders will be needed. This will adversely affect the power to weight ratio, payload capacity and seating capacity,” he says. In the case of trucks, the additional weight of the CNG tanks lowers the payload capacity. With gas prices on the rise, a CNG truck or bus operator will have to visit the CNG bunk more often. This will limit the travel range. Avers Dr. Jindal, “Limited availability of CNG will lead to time wastage.”
LNG for longer range
The possibility of powering a city bus, or an inter-city bus that travels longer distances on a single fill is perhaps the biggest advantage LNG may offer. LNG terminals, as of current, are under utilised. According to Dr. Jindal, “Operators find it risky to operate CNG vehicles, what with the lack of CNG infrastructure. “We therefore expect a migration to LNG.” India has a long contract with Qatar for gas. It is transported to the western coast of the country in the form of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). The government has invested in infrastructure at the ports of Dahej, Kochi, Dabhol, and Hazira along the western coast of India. These terminals are under utilised,” he adds. If the under utilised terminals provide an opportunity to set up LNG dispensing pumps, the need is to understand customer needs from a transportation point of view. One big advantage is the cost of LNG. It is expected to be 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than that of a diesel. States Dr. Jindal, “LNG powered vehicles (trucks and buses) make good candidates. They were not fitted with CNG because they would find it difficult to fill; LNG has a two-and-a-half times more per litre capacity than diesel. The range therefore will be between 600 to 700 km.”
The LNG terminal at Kochi has got the Kerala Government interested, claim industry sources. They add that it is therefore that Tata Motors chose to showcase their LNG bus at Thiruvananthapuram. With an LNG dispensing unit being setup at Kochi, it can be expected that over time, the whole of Kerala will be covered as it amounts to a radii of 300 to 400 km from Kochi. Mentions Dr. Jindal, “The indications we are getting are that LNG can be easily transported from the port to a distance of 500 km. Any further, and the chances of 30 to 40 per cent cost advantage being neutralised are more.” With the erection of five to six LNG dispensing stations being planned along the Mumbai-Delhi corridor, a distance of 1200 km, LNG as an automotive fuel is expected to get a shot in the arm. For proliferation of LNG, a terminal is said to be under construction at Haldia. It would support LNG-powered barges running upstream of the river Ganga. “Big plans for LNG are being chalked out,” states Dr. Jindal. He mentions, “Commercial vehicles will benefit from such an exercise.”
For its part, Tata Motors has been working on LNG for sometime now. With gas companies forthcoming, according to Dr. Jindal, the push for LNG is rising. “We displayed a LNG powered Prima four years ago. We also took efforts to get the government to declare LNG fuel as an automotive fuel,” he adds. Rules were framed in the last three-four years to ensure the use of LNG as an automotive fuel. With regulatory framework in place, the potential for LNG commercial vehicles is looking up.
Cleaner and better
Coming out of natural gas fields, it is about compressing the gas to make it easy to transport it in cylinders. The density of CNG is 16 kg per litre of volume; LNG density is 41 to 42 kg per 100 litre, which makes it 2.5 times denser than CNG. A gas derived product, LNG is clean. It is claimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent with respect to conventional liquid fuels. According to Dr. Jindal, the possibility of impurities finding their way into CNG fuel is more. “Since LNG is liquefied, impurities are unable to find a way into it. LNG is thus pure methane,” he quips. Cleaner than CNG, LNG also rises up in the instance of leakage. It is safe because it operates at lower pressure and evaporates quickly. It is lighter than air and evaporates extremely quickly under atmospheric pressure and temperature. Opines Dr. Jindal, that LNG is safe, and without any known incidents in vehicles.
In trucks, he claims, LNG has a clear potential to enhance the TCO. Compared to CNG buses and trucks, the performance of LNG trucks and buses may not be very different, he adds. “The advantage however will be less weight due to weight saving in areas like cylinders,” he says. If the need for more performance is felt, a solution, explains Dr. Jindal, would be to offer higher horsepower engines. “With a turbocharged engine, we have been able to get the same amount of power from a CNG engine as a diesel engine,” he adds. The DMRC buses Tata Motors has supplied to Delhi make a good example in terms of drive-ability. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine can develop the same power as that of a diesel engine. Pure methane in the form of LNG is expected to ensure superior performance over CNG. With pure methane content, engine knocking is taken care of, and efficiency increases. Thermal efficiency, according to Dr. Jindal, will be better in the case of LNG. Like all CNG engines, that are BSIV emission norms compliant, LNG engines will also be BSIV emission compliant. From 2020, they will be BSVI compliant. The liquified form that LNG is in, makes it 95 per cent Methane in content. This makes LNG one of the most purest gases available.
To attract truck operators to LNG is going to be a big challenge, and Dr. Jindal is aware of it. He opines, “LNG will make a superior proposition for trucks operating in regions like Delhi NCR. A trucker going from Trivandrum to Guwahati will however not be enticed by the propsect of LNG; not unless and until he gets supporting LNG infrastructure to bank upon.” The introduction of LNG trucks is most likely to be limited to dedicated corridors therefore. Buses will be the first to get LNG. The 30 to 40 per cent cost saving will be a big enabler. Making practical sense for heavy vehicles because the return on investment in the case of heavy duty LNG vehicles will be faster, one may also consider the fact that cryogenic cylinders, as of now, are of the size suitable for bigger CVs. Fitted to small CVs, they would make a costlier proposition as far as the total cost is concerned. Efforts to package LNG on smaller CVs, except the very small ones like the Ace, are on.
Pricing is one area that Tata Motors is working on as far as LNG commercial vehicles are concerned. Cryogenic tanks, according to Dr. Jindal, are imported. Their prices are high. Work is on to ensure that the prices are brought down to a reasonable and competitive level. Local development of tanks is underway. While that happens, the biggest pull for LNG will come from a (total cost of operation) saving of between 30 to 40 per cent. Dr. Jindal is of the opinion that LNG buses will pick up faster. Trucks will take longer because of their pattern of usage. It would entail an amount of confidence building as far as truckers are concerned. “By mid-next year we will be ready with buses. We will be ready for trucks by the end of next year. It will take time even though we do not see packaging as a challenge in this case,” signs off Dr. Jindal.
In the CNG form, the Tata LPO1613 platform measures 11120 mm in length. Available as a cowl chassis with a 900 mm floor height, the platform, designed to spring a bus, is powered by a naturally aspirated 5.7-litre BSIV water cooled engine that does 96 Kw at 2500 rpm, and 405 Nm of peak torue between 1250 and 1500 rpm. The transmission is GBS-40 synchromesh unit with six gears. The bus chassis is fitted with five CNG cylinders of 650-litre. The cryogenic cylinders on the LNG LPO1613 bus showcased in Kerala are imported, and known to provide a range of between 600 and 700 km. The LPO1613 chassis is built at the company’s Lucknow plant. The body is built by Marcopolo at their Dharwad plant.