For two decades, Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems has designed some of the world’s leading weapons systems. But now it has its sights set on a somewhat different market — electric buses.
This venture from Israel’s largest listed defense company, whose drones and surveillance systems are top sellers around the world, is part of a broader strategy to use its military expertise to break into civilian markets.
Last year, it unveiled a commercial product for airline pilots, a wearable head-up display called Skylens that assists in take-off and landings in low visibility conditions. It was based on a technology used by air force pilots.
This time the electronics company has landed on high-performance batteries suitable for electric buses, a growing market as public transport networks boom in places like China and providers look for alternatives to fossil fuels.
What electric buses need are supercapacitor batteries — efficient storage devices that can be rapidly charged, can deliver high power and have a long lifespan.
But the bus route had an unlikely starting point.
“We had looked into developing energy weapons, like high power lasers that would use supercapacitors. And from there we looked to branch out with other applications that have potential for financial growth,” said Yehuda Borenstein, head of the company’s energy systems unit.
Since buses run along fixed routes for fixed amounts of time, the key is to be able to charge their batteries rapidly in the downtime.
The problem with supercapacitors, however, is their cost and their weight, which can be prohibitive. Yet for those that manage to crack the problem, there is money to be made: the hybrid and electric bus market is still in its early stages, but it is expected to boom over the next decade.