My Tour of Lightning eMotors


I used to be impressed pulling into the lot at Lightning eMotors. 100 or extra white vans from Ford and GM have been arrayed in rows, ready for his or her flip to be reworked into battery electrical automobiles (BEVs). Lightning eMotors, lined by CleanTechnica in 2021 right here, right here, and right here, focuses on creating powertrains and electrical conversions for big vans, shuttles, buses, and supply automobiles.

Positioned in Loveland, Colorado, the positioning was as soon as a Hewlett-Packard (HP) campus that sits atop a small hill overlooking the Rocky Mountains. I’m notably on this place, not just for the corporate’s mission to maneuver the world in the direction of an electrified, carbon-free future, but in addition as a result of I used to work in that constructing. And not too long ago I had the possibility to return to the reworked website, on tour with a bunch {of electrical} engineers.

Again within the HP days, the positioning fostered each engineering and manufacturing excellence, however due to bigger financial forces and shifting priorities, the corporate ultimately left the Loveland website. Workers (resembling I) have been moved right into a smaller constructing subsequent door, the place we sadly watched the bigger campus languish in close to abandonment for nearly a decade. Quick-forward to now and you’ll’t assist however be inspired to see Lightning eMotors blossoming, bringing that very same spirit of innovation again to the historic website. (Coincidentally, I additionally as soon as labored infrequently on the website that Tesla now calls its engineering headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, additionally a former HP constructing.)

On our group’s tour, we began at Lightning’s first car, a futuristic-looking hybrid automotive that used compressed nitrogen for regenerative braking, constructed throughout their humble beginnings in 2008. With over 250 workers, they now deal with constructing pure electrical drivetrains and performing conversions for Class 3 cargo and passenger vans, ambulances, Class 4 and 5 cargo vans and shuttle buses, Class 4 Kind A college buses, Class 6 work vehicles, Class 7 metropolis buses, and motor coaches. In virtually all instances, the conversion is carried out on new automobiles from the OEM factories, which implies that these automobiles are already EVs when they’re first registered for street use.

Picture courtesy of Lightning eMotors 

These automobiles are bigger than the Class 2 vans that Ford (eTransit) and GM (BrightDrop) at present produce, and fill an necessary area of interest in fleet electrification. A few of these automobiles will run all day, contributing positively each to our planet’s carbon footprint in addition to decreasing noise and air air pollution, so electrification makes a giant distinction in every.

As we walked, we noticed automobiles at varied levels of the conversion processes. Most fashions start as model new automobiles, full with an inside combustion engine (ICE), which is first eliminated after which changed by an electrical powertrain. For now, the ICE powertrains are bought to recoup prices, however ultimately, they’ll have ample quantity to purchase new chassis with out the ICE parts. As soon as the drivetrain is changed, the physique is modified in accordance with the shopper’s goal, turning it right into a van, shuttle, or absolutely anything else. They’ll additionally refit used automobiles, resembling faculty buses, with new electrical drivetrains.

Moreover decreasing greenhouse gasoline emissions, electrification can result in higher reliability, as Lightning’s Dan Bennett defined:

“Lightning eMotors has invested closely in manufacturing and high quality techniques with the goal of manufacturing automobiles that are dependable from day one. Actually, one of many firm’s key efficiency metrics is the general uptime price for his or her buyer base. At 97% uptime (for all of their automobiles besides the earliest prototypes), this metric is above diesel fleets, which generally run at round 90% availability.”

However the firm does rather more than EV manufacturing. To make sure profitable fleet operations, it has expanded its portfolio to incorporate logistics, charging stations, charging as a service, cell charging, telematics, in addition to steering for navigating authorities incentives, all to verify clients are working at peak effectivity. It’s a one-stop store. From the corporate’s web site:

“The Lightning crew works with forward-thinking fleets to offer the proper electrical powertrain on the proper chassis in the proper drive cycle. Lightning’s merchandise enhance a fleet’s working prices and security and ensure they’re driving the cleanest and most superior expertise out there.”

An instance of Lightning’s funding in making EV choice simpler for fleets is its on-line simulation software at fleet.lightningemotors.com, which asks the consumer for operational info resembling passenger rely or payload necessities, terrain sort, and obligation schedule; after which gives an inventory of automobiles that may work for that fleet, together with estimated price financial savings in comparison with the ICE equal car. “These simulations are based mostly on real-world telematics knowledge,” says Dan Bennett, “to allow them to be trusted.”

Over the previous few years, they’ve continued to develop. Within the third quarter of 2022, Lightning eMotors produced 104 automobiles and powertrains, a brand new document, doubling the quantity from Q3 2021. As of this writing, clients have pushed over 4 million pure electrical miles, mitigating 7 million lb of CO2 (on the street). And the longer term seems brilliant due to continued demand and new authorities incentives. From the corporate’s 2022 earnings report:

“Along with the continued Federal Transportation Administration funding for low and 0 emission public transportation at $1 billion per yr, the U.S. Environmental Safety Company not too long ago doubled the funding for electrical faculty buses from $500 million to $1 billion per yr. Beginning in 2023, the brand new Inflation Discount Act gives a tax credit score of $40,000 for electrical business automobiles over 14,000 kilos, a funding that may be stacked on high of the opposite Federal and State funding sources. Lightning is one in every of just a few OEMs that possible qualify for all of those subsidies immediately.”

Our tour group took all these websites and stats in with a type of reckless curiosity. We after all requested all the everyday EV questions on vary, charging, brake regen, battery lifetime, and so on. However a bunch of (principally retired) engineers, dropped out of the blue right into a hub of latest expertise, will need to know rather more — they may need to know every thing. Accordingly, we exhausted our guides with questions on every thing from wiring to hiring. We requested about software program, documentation, testing, provide chains, office security, throughput, electromagnetic interference, first-responder security, heating/cooling, gear containers, controllers, effectivity, and a lot extra.

It’s simple to underestimate all of the proficiencies wanted to get a brand new auto firm off the bottom. However I used to be impressed by how adeptly our guides answered our questions, exhibiting that they’d given thought to each difficulty, and within the course of, illustrated their dedication to innovation in each engineering and manufacturing. It was encouraging to see this necessary effort underway, and proper subsequent door to the place I now work. And who is aware of, perhaps I ought to wish to work in that constructing once more sometime.

Dave Gines

By David Gines. Dave is {an electrical} engineer working at Keysight Applied sciences, specializing in algorithms for knowledge evaluation.

He loves science, enjoys following the transition to scrub vitality by means of CleanTechnica, and likes to remain energetic within the lovely outside of northern Colorado the place he at present lives.

Thanks and a hat tip to David!

All photos are courtesy of Lightning eMotors (and used with their permission).

 


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