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Proterra pushes toward electrification

March 15, 2021
The EV battery producer continues to sign agreements to provide technology for buses and delivery vehicles.

Battery producer Proterra has been busy with strategic announcement in recent weeks further the movement towards electrification.

The driver behind all the action? Commercial vehicles from delivery trucks to school buses are ripe for electrification, Claire McConnell, vice president of strategic partnerships on Proterra Powered.

"Successfully transitioning to electric vehicle fleets requires safe, reliable, and high-performing battery technology. Proterra’s flexible battery platform is purpose-built for commercial vehicles. It leverages industry-leading energy density manufactured for maximum range, a customizable design to fit within a variety of vehicles, and a ruggedized commercial grade housing to withstand harsh environments. Safety and reliability are at the heart of Proterra’s battery technology platform," said McConnell.

"Indeed, our industry-leading battery technology has been proven in more than 17 million miles driven by our fleet of electric transit vehicles. What’s working in our transit vehicle fleet can work in other commercial vehicles, too," said McConnell. "That’s why world-class commercial vehicle manufacturers have selected Proterra’s battery technology to electrify delivery vans, school buses, coaches, low-floor shuttles, and construction equipment."

Electrifying buses

In alignment with President Biden’s goal to electrify the nation’s school buses, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education recently approved a contract with Highland Electric Transportation, a provider of turnkey electric fleet solutions, to convert its school bus fleet to all-electric, starting with 326 school buses over the next four years.

This project represents the largest single procurement of electric school buses in North America. Montgomery County Public Schools operates more than 200 schools and serves over 160,000 students county-wide. The MCPS Department of Transportation is one of the largest in the country, with an over 1,400 school bus fleet.

Under the agreement, Highland and its project partners, including Thomas Built Buses, Proterra and Annapolis-based American Bus, will electrify all five of MCPS’ bus depots, supplying the electric school buses and charging infrastructure along with services including managed charging. Highland will purchase buses manufactured in North Carolina by Thomas Built Buses, which will be supplied and serviced by American Bus. Both companies have been long-time trusted suppliers and partners for the MCPS Department of Transportation. 

Designed, engineered, and manufactured in the United States by Thomas Built Buses, the all-electric Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus is powered by Proterra’s electric vehicle technology platform. The Jouley couples 226 kWh of total energy capacity with a Proterra Powered drivetrain to offer an industry-leading operating range of up to 135 miles on a single charge to meet the needs of school bus fleets.

The transition to electric school buses will deliver health and climate benefits for the community. Converting the school bus fleet will reduce carbon emissions by 25,000 tons per year while cutting diesel pollution harmful to human health, contributing to both Maryland and Montgomery County goals.

“Battery-electric school buses offer a safe, reliable mode of transportation that reduces noise and air pollution, protecting public health and the environment. That’s why innovative communities like Montgomery County, Maryland are driving the transition to clean, zero-emission pupil transportation for our students and schools. Together with Thomas Built Buses and Highland Electric Transportation, Proterra is proud to deliver the benefits of our electric vehicle technology to Montgomery County and support their historic commitment to electric school buses,” said Gareth Joyce, president of Proterra Powered and Energy.

The project was awarded an $817,000 grant from Maryland Energy Association (MEA), which helps offset the purchase cost of vehicles that is critical at this early stage of mass deployment. This is the type of project that the MEA Clean Fuels Incentive Program was intended to support, collaboration between the public and private sector to build a scalable fleet electrification market in the state. In addition, the electric buses will lend their batteries to deliver stored electricity to the local electricity markets, interconnected through Pepco, which helps the community integrate renewable energy and support grid resiliency.

Highland takes on the obligation of internalizing these values, which shift the cost of ownership for the electrified fleets, helping to deliver budget neutrality to MCPS. “This is the first step toward meeting President Biden’s pledge to electrify all 500,000 school buses across the nation over the next decade,” said Nat Kreamer, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, a national business group. “These school buses do double duty, providing pollution-free transportation for schoolchildren and grid services that benefit all electric customers, while also being available as mobile backup for communities affected by power outages.”

Proterra makes European splash

The full-electric commercial vehicle manufacturer, Volta Trucks has selected Proterra as the battery supplier for the Volta Zero. The Zero is a purpose-built, full-electric 16-tonne commercial vehicle designed specifically for inner city freight distribution.

This significant contract completes Volta Trucks’ strategic sourcing of the electric powertrain. Volta Zero vehicles are scheduled to start customer trials later in 2021, with tens of thousands of trucks expected on the roads soon after series production starts around 12 months later.

This news represents Proterra’s entry into the European truck market and the second application of our battery tech in an electric delivery vehicle. Proterra Powered now has seven partnerships with commercial vehicles manufacturers to help electrify delivery vans, school buses, coach buses, low-floor shuttles, construction equipment, and other 100% electric vehicles.

“Proterra and Volta Trucks share a common vision of clean, healthy communities served by zero-emission, electric vehicles,” said Proterra’s Joyce. “We look forward to building our relationship together as we support Volta Trucks in the development of the revolutionary Volta Zero commercial vehicle.”

The Proterra-supplied battery will give the Volta Zero a real-world range of 200kms on a single charge. This distance is more than enough for most inner-city logistics and distribution vehicles which spend most of their operating time in slow-moving start / stop traffic. The Proterra battery pack delivers industry-leading energy density and a customizable design. This allows the battery in the Volta Zero to be located between the chassis rails – its safest possible location for the design.

The collaboration represents US-based Proterra’s entry into the European truck market. Proterra’s battery technology has been proven over 17 million miles driven by its own transit vehicles and has also been chosen by other world-class commercial vehicle manufacturers to electrify delivery vans, school buses, coaches, low-floor shuttles, and construction equipment.

Proterra batteries feature passive and active safety features, liquid thermal conditioning, and adheres to state-of-the-art functional safety standards, including ISO 26262 (up to ASIL C). The Proterra battery is designed to deliver over 4,000 recharge cycles over 10 years, without significant degradation, to ensure the longevity of the vehicle.

“Embracing clean, quiet transportation for all not only benefits how we move people around cities and towns, but also how we provide goods and services to the communities we live in," said Proterra CEO Jack Allen, in a statement. "Proterra is excited to work with Volta Trucks as we accelerate the transition to 100% clean transportation and deliver Proterra Powered clean energy vehicles to communities across Europe.”

This article originally appeared on Industry Week.

About the Author

Peter Fretty

As a highly experienced journalist, Peter Fretty regularly covers advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

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