Buses as Emergency Generators? Congress Advances UT Research

June 27, 2022

bus exportable power supply setup

bus exportable power supply setup graphic

The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) is advancing a project to use electric buses as mobile backup generators to make sure critical infrastructure like hospitals and fire stations are available during disasters and severe weather events.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have been working on this concept for several years, a project the research team calls Bus Exportable Power Supply (BEPS). And they showed its potential last year when they used a bus to power a building at UT’s Pickle Research Campus in north Austin.

"Transit agencies have a vast collection of raw horsepower in the form of their buses, along with a large supply of energy with their onsite diesel fuel stations," said Mike Lewis, the BEPS program manager at UT Austin and a senior engineering scientist at the Center for Electromechanics. "Tapping into this resource and outfitting transit buses with exportable power could provide a game-changing capability for emergency response power needs."

CEM teamed with the Center for Transportation and the Environment and Hagerty Consulting, to design and develop the technology and study its use cases and applicability for emergency response. Recently, Congress empowered the FTA to establish a program to provide standards for the BEPS contact.

"This program is critical to move the technology from the development phase to practice," said Robert Hebner, CEM director and a professor in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering.

One important application could have been the deep freeze across Texas in February 2021, which threatened critical infrastructure. If these bus generators were active during the freeze, they could have helped keep Texas safer.

"The BEPS project developed a solution and the freeze event in Texas highlighted the need," Lewis said. "There are never enough generators when a disaster hits. The technology is available today. It works and it is affordable. However, the prior BEPS project also noted that widespread use requires standards to be developed around the concept."

The idea of using vehicles as generators has gained steam in recent years, thanks to the increased use and availability of electric cars. Hebner noted that the concept of vehicles as generators has entered the mainstream; the most recent example, he said, being an ad for the all-electric Ford 150 Lightning truck that shows it powering a trailer on a camping trip.

"We’ve seen that everyone’s house could be connected to a truck, but fire stations and supermarkets could not," Hebner said. "It’s important to protect both houses and the neighborhood economy."