As of the end of this decade, Daimler Buses intends to offer all-electric coaches with its Mercedes-Benz and Setra brands. To accelerate development, Daimler Buses announces it has teamed up with research institutes and experts from the industry to form the Electrified Coach project ELCH in short. The project is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

The goal of the Electrified Coach project is the development of a modular drivetrain and two emission-free and practical demonstration vehicles in the next four years. They will then be tested under real operating conditions.

Flix stands out among the project partners’ list. Flixbus, by the way, has already announced the goal of having hydrogen long-distance buses on the European network by 2024 as an outcome of another German project.

ELCH is not the only initiative aimed at the development of zero emission coaches in Europe. The EU project CoacHyfied has been launched in March 2021. It is led by service provider FEV Group and aims to identify existing challenges and elaborate suitable solutions by developing and operating six fuel cell coaches in public and commercial transport, both local and long-distance. Among the partners there are Ballard Power Systems, ElringKlinger, Otokar, Engie, the Turkish Ford subsidiary Ford Otomotiv Sanayi A.Ş.

According to a report by Interact Analysis, 74% of coaches are estimated to be non-electrified in 2030 in EMEA region. In that segment, for a few years we’ll mostly see plans, targets and pilot projects.

The partners of the ELCH project

Daimler Buses is the coordinator of the publicly funded project. Project partners are the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology KIT (ITIV – Institute for Information Technology); the University of Mannheim (MISES – Mannheim Institute for Sustainable Energy Studies); the Technical University of Kaiserslautern (iMAD – Institute for Mechanical and Automotive Design and SAM – Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Fluid Flow Machines) and operator Flix SE with its green Flix long-distance coaches.

Daimler Buses and ELCH project

City buses with an all-electric drive, such as the Mercedes eCitaro, are now a familiar sight on the streets of many German and European cities. Electrically powered coaches is a different story. Daimler Buses sums up: “Requirements for long-range transport, flexibility in use, battery charging on the go, high payloads and the space required for passengers and luggage are indispensable and in part contradictory. No bus/coach manufacturer has yet succeeded in developing a battery-powered coach that can cover workable ranges as well as availability for a wide variety of operating conditions”.

We are delighted to be the only bus/coach manufacturer able to bring our development expertise to the ELCH project. As a technological pioneer in the industry, we can deal with the topic both quickly as well as comprehensively and in a practical way

Michael Klein, Head of Product Development and Production Daimler Buses

Partners will take a holistic approach to the ELCH project. First of all, a modular drive system with a view to energy consumption, range, driving performance and battery service life will be examined in the concept phase in a pilot project. Synergies with components from the “Daimler Truck” truck division will be taken into account.

Electrified Coach project: drivetrains and demonstrators

In the second step, factors such as overall costs, environmental impact and possible integration into existing operating concepts of bus/coach companies will be incorporated into the results. Based on the concept evaluation, two prototype drivetrains will then be developed and integrated into the demonstration vehicles. This will enable testing under real operating conditions.

The findings from the construction of the demonstration vehicles will form the basis for the planning of cost-effective production and assembly processes for electrically powered coaches. This, in combination with the modular product approach, will enable a fast production start-up, the manufacturer says.

The installation space of the vehicles must correspond as far as possible to the current diesel buses/coaches. In addition to their range, maintaining passenger capacity, including the additional payload for luggage, are an important prerequisite for the success of e-coaches. Beside the drivetrain and battery technology, project partners are playing an important role in aerodynamics and lightweight construction.

The profitability of the resulting vehicle concepts will also be assessed from the operator’s perspective and taken into account in the concept definition. The objective is to identify cost-efficient concepts for individual vehicles and entire fleets of electrically powered coaches for the various operating profiles.

The role of Flix in ELCH project

Flix SE will contribute its distinctive competence in planning and controlling the world’s largest long-distance coach network to the project. Flix will evaluate the operational characteristics of the projected solutions at an early stage. This means that an assessment can be made at the midpoint of the project about the feasibility of switching to battery electric coaches. Flix will also be involved in the validation of the demonstration vehicles under real operating conditions. Flix has specified the use of alternative drives as an important part of its strategy toward further CO2 reduction. Accordingly, the company has a great deal of interest in coaches that can be deployed under the very challenging operating conditions typical of Flix.

The Institute for Mechanical and Automotive Design (iMAD) and the Institute for Fluid Mechanics and Fluid Flow Machines (SAM) of the Technical University of Kaiserslautern each possess specific expert knowledge in the disciplines of lightweight construction and aerodynamics. In the development of innovative solutions, the researchers will use modern simulation methods and will be able to fall back on the corresponding test facilities. Since both theme fields have a significant influence on energy consumption, they are of particular importance in the context of the electrification of coaches.

The KIT’s “Institute for Information Technology” (ITIV) will contribute its outstanding expert knowledge in handling large amounts of data to the analysis of operating conditions and the development of a smart operating strategy. In addition to minimizing energy requirements, factors such as optimal load distribution of the drivetrain and the efficient use of recuperation must also be taken into account using artificial intelligence methods.

Based at the University of Mannheim, the Mannheim Institute for Sustainable Energy Studies (MISES) will carry out the profitability analysis from the perspective of the operators and thus make an important contribution to the concept definition. This will ensure the marketability of coaches with battery-electric drivetrains right from the development phase.

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