The first electric bus to be powered by a zero-emission zinc-air battery is to start a series of test track trials in the United States, to show it can cope with the rigours of city and suburban driving.

The bus has been developed by the USA-based Electric Fuel company, with half the funding provided by America's Federal Transit Administration, which wants to examine whether it can promote the technology as a way of providing 'clean' mass public transport.

Although zinc-air batteries have been used for a long time in other much smaller applications, such as hearing aids, Electric Fuel has developed a battery which holds much more energy than before and also which has considerably more power - the new zinc-air battery contains four times as much energy as a lead-acid battery weighing the same amount.

The company thinks that the technology would suit a transit bus system, because a single refuelling centre could be used easily by a large number of vehicles.

During the course of the testing this summer in New York, the company hopes to show that the full-length, 40-feet-long, electric vehicle meets all requirements of a transit bus, including range, acceleration and the ability to operate with power-consuming auxiliary equipment such as air conditioning.

More tests on real roads are due to be carried out later this year.

The testing will include constant-velocity driving, typical of suburban transit systems, as well as urban stop-and-go cycles such as the industry standard CBD-14 transit duty cycle.

Electric Fuel has been promoting the invention since late 1998, via a Zinc-Air Electric Transit Bus Programme, aimed at demonstrating the ability of the company's patented zinc-air fuel cell system to power a full-size, all-electric transit bus, providing a full day's range for heavy-duty city and suburban routes, under all weather conditions.

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