Chile makes its own electric buses to speed up the energy transition

Interior of the Reborn plant, which produces electric buses, tentatively for the state-owned company Cobre de Chile, to which they will supply a hundred units in December, destined for the El Teniente mine, the largest underground mine in the world, with about 3,000 km of tunnels .

Chile wants public transport to be fully electric by 2050. Therefore, the country has started its own production of electric buses. In the long run, these should also serve the major Chilean industries.

IIn Chile, Queltehue, an electric bus named after the original name of the Chilean vibe, represents another step towards a predominantly electric vehicle fleet. For example, the fight against serious pollution and smog in Santiago and other cities in the country.

According to the National Electromobility Strategy, (re) launched in 2021, 100 percent of public transportation and 40 percent of passenger cars will be electric by 2050. By 2035, no more cars with internal combustion engines will be sold in Chile. That strategy focuses on public transportation, freight, commercial vehicles and vehicles for important local industries, such as mining.

A notable advance in recent years has been the increase in the number of electric buses in public transport.

This means that in less than thirty years, around five million vehicles will switch from fuel to electricity. This saves about 11 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. The cost of oil (products) will also fall by more than $ 3.3 billion a year.

Transportation could be zero-emissions faster if this long, narrow South American country, sandwiched between the Andes and the Pacific, exploited the enormous potential of solar and wind energy generated from the abundant sunlight in the Atacama Desert and the strong winds. in the coastal areas and the southern region.

Electric buses

However, much remains to be done. Currently, there are only about 2,750 electric cars in circulation in Chile and only 310 public chargers to power them.

A notable advance in recent years has been the increase in the number of electric buses in public transport. These already make up 20 percent of the total of 6,713 passenger buses in Santiago, where 7.1 million of the 19.1 million Chileans live.

© IPS / Orlando Milesia

At Los Espinos Electroterminal, in the municipality of Peñalolén, electric buses from the private company Metbus begin and end their journey through the Chilean capital. “We have noticed that passengers are calmer,” said José Bazán, the company’s inspector, who traveled twice to Shenzhen to buy the electric buses.

‘Quality transport is crucial for people to leave their car and choose more efficient transport.’

In May, Transport Minister Juan Carlos Muñoz confirmed that another 70 electric buses will serve about 50,000 passengers daily in three municipalities south of Santiago.

“Quality transportation is essential for people to leave their cars behind and choose more efficient transportation so that we can make Santiago an environmentally friendly city,” he said at the time.

Until now, electric buses in public transport, which are privately owned in Chile, have come from Chinese companies. But that will change as electric transportation becomes more important.

Success in the mines

Felipe Cevallos (32), a mechanical engineer, and Ricardo Repenning (33), an electrical engineer, are partners in the Chilean company Reborn Electric Motors. It started by converting diesel vehicles into electric ones, and this year will supply 104 electric buses to the El Teniente mine, which is owned by the state-owned copper company Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer and exporter. The buses are quiet and emit no CO2.

“We were able to transport people to the mines under difficult conditions, through mud and salt, over steep slopes and in high humidity,” says Cevallos proudly during a visit to the company’s factory in Rancagua municipality, south of Santiago. The factory can produce up to 200 vehicles a year.

The buses consist of 45 percent Chilean parts, the bodies are from Brazil, the engines are from Canada and the batteries are made in China.

© IPS / Orlando Milesia

One of the electric buses on the assembly line at the Reborn factory. Each unit has 45% Chilean components. The rest of the parts are imported from Brazil, Canada and China.

At El Teniente, the world’s largest underground copper warehouse, 24,150 kW chargers are installed, which can charge two Queltehue buses in 40 minutes. Other buses run from Rancagua, and a further ten chargers will be installed at the terminal by Transportes Link, the public transport operator.

“The 104 buses that we have to deliver will take the workers from their places of arrival and changing rooms into the mine. They travel 15 to 20 kilometers each, mainly through tunnels, ”says Repenning.

‘We started by converting diesel buses at the end of their life to 100 percent electric. In 2020, we started producing new, 100 percent electric buses at the Rancagua factory, ”he explains.

The company is now focused on mining, but the technology can be used for urban and land transport. As the batteries were very heavy, a lot of passenger capacity was lost, says Repenning. But now that the batteries have been improved, it can speed up the transition to electric public transport.

Land transport accounts for about 30 percent of Chile’s total energy consumption. The accompanying emissions make up up to 25 percent of the national total.

Luciano Ahumadahead of the IT faculty at Diego Portales University (UDP), says that ‘electromobility is a great tool, perhaps the most important, to become CO2 neutral’.

“Electromobility is also a business model.”
Héctor Novoa, Professor (UDP)

He cites the high cost of vehicles and the lack of trust among users of the charger network as the biggest problems with electric transport at the moment. “The biggest challenge is to stimulate the purchase and production of electric vehicles and to create and install reliable and sustainable charging infrastructure,” said Ahumada.

© IPS / Orlando Milesia

The private company Metbus brought the first two electric buses from China in 2017. It now operates 1430 electric buses, the largest fleet in South America, with vehicles equipped with air conditioning, WIFI, USB and a camera system. It installed solar panels in the Electroterminalen to generate the energy it uses in its offices.

Hector Novoa, professor at UDP Architecture Faculty, is working on his Ph.D. on electric mobility. According to him, the Chilean strategy has advantages and disadvantages. Chile has the largest fleet of electric public transport buses in the southern hemisphere, he says. “But the government’s policy is accompanied by a large commitment from parties that themselves have a share in the energy sector. Electromobility is also a business model. ‘

He also regrets that public electric chargers “are mainly aimed at certain exclusive neighborhoods and municipalities in Santiago, causing increasing inequality.” He therefore calls for more clarity on how the city can distribute the new charging infrastructure more fairly.

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© Matjaz Krivic


Novoa agrees with Ahumada that ‘electromobility is a key element of decarbonisation’ and agrees that the high price of electric cars still stands in the way of development.

The professor also mentions a largely undiscovered aspect of the transport conversion: the fact that a significant part of the vehicle’s emissions do not come from exhaust gases, but from wear on brake pads and tires that produce toxic particles.

In certain zones, this particle pollution is very large, and it should therefore not be overlooked, he concludes.

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