If you’ve ever travelled by car or train through northern Germany, you will be familiar with Osnabrück. This is where the east-west and north-south motorway and rail connections intersect. This favourable location in terms of transport certainly contributes to the accelerated developments in logistics in this city. And there are also innovations in inner-city mobility. But there are also other reasons why Osnabrück was named Germany's most sustainable city in the German Sustainability Awards Link 1 (2020). Three examples show what the city is doing right.
Stadtwerke Osnabrück: electric, digital and networked
They have long been a familiar sight in the city, the red-green articulated buses with the characteristically faired-in wheels in the middle and at the back. Since March 2019, the M1 line between the districts of Düstrup and Haste has been fully electric and operates 13 vehicles by the manufacturer VDL. According to Stadtwerke Osnabrück, Osnabrück's public utility company, this means that Germany's largest fleet of electric articulated buses is already on the road. And an additional 49 buses from the Dutch manufacturer will be purchased in 2021. These will then be used to electrify the metro bus lines 2 to 5 and thus all the main axes of the inner-city public transport system.
“E-buses are around twice as expensive to buy as conventionally powered buses,” explains Dr Stephan Rolfes, Director of Mobility at the public utility company. However, as he points out, the lower operating costs and the government’s support for e-mobility make their operation economical. “In addition, the e-buses emit less noise and air pollution and thus increase the quality of life in the city.” He added that continuing to use conventional drive systems was not an alternative for the public utility company. “As a municipal ‘Quality of Life Company' and central infrastructure service provider for the entire region, we consider it our responsibility to set an example of sustainable corporate action”, emphasises Rolfes.
In everyday operation, the e-buses have so far proved their worth several times over and covered a total of 900,000 kilometres purely electrically by mid-July 2020. “They have fully met our expectations,” emphasises the Director of Mobility. And the charging process does not limit the availability of the vehicles either. The buses are charged in two ways: with so-called occasional charging, the buses are charged at the terminal stops with a high charge of up to 350 kW for ten minutes – and the bus driver uses this time as a break. The vehicle is then slow charged at up to 50 kW overnight at the depot.
“The public transport of tomorrow is electric, digital and networked”, emphasises Dr Rolfes. “In conjunction with our other, partly already existing sharing offers, Osnabrück’s public transport serves as the strong backbone of mobility in Osnabrück and the surrounding region”.
Sun Glider: silent suspension railway
A train hovers silently on stilts over the central reservation of a road. Underneath it, people are walking along a stream. There is a station for this line every 750 metres, where passengers can board the train. The eight-metre-long trains, which can hold up to 26 passengers, run autonomously; thanks to a learning artificial intelligence system, they know where to expect a particularly large number of passengers. In addition, the entire track is covered by solar panels and generates more electricity than the train consumes.
That is the vision of the start-up Sun Glider from Osnabrück. And from the perspective of project developer Ulrich Hartwig, it is more than just a vision. The founders from Osnabrück are currently kick-starting their feasibility study again, which came to a halt during corona. A test track is to be built in 2024. Martinistraße, which leads into the city from the west, needs to be redesigned anyway. If the company’s creative forces Prof. Dieter Otten and engineer Heiner Gerbracht and their team get their way, it will be furnished with a three-kilometre Sun Glider test track.
According to Sun Glider, the cost is around 3.5 million euros per kilometre. And as they point out, this would cost considerably less than conventional road construction projects. 80 per cent of the parts are to be produced using 3D printing. The start-up company is in talks with several companies from Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia about the production possibilities.
The start-up team is convinced that the Sun Glider can make a major contribution to sustainability and quality of life in the city as a new type of public transport system. By shifting transport upwards, space is freed up on the ground, which local residents can then use for leisure and recreation. The trains run on emissions-free electricity and are practically silent. They can therefore be operated around the clock. And at times of lower demand, cargo wagons will also be deployed, which will e.g. deliver goods to retailers in the city centre.
For the wagon technology, Sun Glider uses vehicles from an American manufacturer. “We take their bus model Olli and simply push the wheels up,” says Hartwig, laughing. The drive motors sit directly in the wheels. At the stops, capacitors are charged by induction for 30 to 40 seconds, which then supply pulse current to the wheels. A battery, which might be heavy, is not needed.
For Ulrich Hartwig, however, another aspect is the most important thing: according to their own calculations, the Sun Glider's solar panels permanently generate 15 to 20 per cent more energy than the system consumes. “The Sun Glider doesn't cost money, it brings money. That’s the sensation”.
Meyer & Meyer: alternative drives in logistics
Rolf Meyer, member of the supervisory board for the Meyer & Meyer-Group, is looking forward to September 2020. This is when the Osnabrück logistics company will present its Route Charge project. In this project, the batteries in an electric lorry are replaced just like the horses in a stagecoach used to be.
Meyer & Meyer is one of the leading German fashion logistics companies and transports, for example, the goods of a large textile company from its central warehouse in Peine to Berlin. At the halfway point in Magdeburg, the battery set of the electric truck is replaced with a fresh one. The 16-tonne lorry with trailer would not make it all the way on one set of batteries. Rolf Meyer developed the project centrally from Osnabrück together with his colleagues on the supervisory board, Michael Meyer and Dr Clemens Haskamp, and in Bijan Abdolrahimi, he hired an engineer specifically for the alternative drives sector. Meyer & Meyer is the consortium leader of the project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics. Scientific support is provided by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK , the Logistics Department and the DAI Laboratory at the Technical University of Berlin .
The company is also pursuing further measures to make logistics more sustainable. In the Peine area, Meyer & Meyer operates another electric lorry, which was converted by the SME Orten Electric-Trucks, and two long lorries for long-distance transport, which are ideal for transporting hanging textiles. This means that considerably more goods can be transported in one trip. And since clothing is comparatively light, there are no problems with the permissible total weight.
“We've now missed out on 20 years in the development of alternative concepts in logistics,” says Rolf Meyer bluntly. He emphasises that it is high time we did something about climate change. “Since 2016, I have only been a member of the supervisory board and as such I now have more time to deal with such issues,” Meyer smiles. He certainly views it as his mission: he is involved in various committees and constantly exchanges information with colleagues, thus inspiring and encouraging others to join the cause for cleaner logistics. In the near future, he plans to submit an application for funding for a hydrogen and fuel cells project. In addition, Meyer and his company City Wow advise municipalities on how they can improve city logistics and tackle the problem of congested inner cities.
The fact that a city like Osnabrück can become a driver of alternative logistics concepts is also due to personalities like Meyer, emphasises Prof. Bert Leerkamp from the teaching and research department for freight traffic planning and transport logistics at the Bergische Universität Wuppertal. “The industry is not yet producing series-produced electric lorries and there is thus a niche in which a certain Rolf Meyer is active – a committed innovative logistics expert who works with small companies specialising in converting combustion engine lorries to electric drive systems”.
- Alternative Drives