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Linkker is on a road towards a greener future

Linkker’s unibody bus frame is roughly 30 per cent lighter than the frames of other buses with an equivalent capacity.Ivo Hofste

These innovative people movers bring together energy efficiency and electrification, digitalisation, and automation, and are making tracks internationally.

Linkker is at the forefront of what according to one of its founders could be one of the more monumental changes in the modern world: the electrification of transport.

“E-mobility is truly a global phenomenon,” states Tom Granvik, a co-founder and chief financial officer at Linkker. “It’s a major theme wherever you go because urbanisation is taking place everywhere and because emissions are a problem everywhere.”

The Lahti-headquartered company has, despite its relatively young age, succeeded in developing and manufacturing electric buses that outperform the alternatives offered by its larger competitors in energy efficiency, operational performance and environmental friendliness.

“We’re frontrunners in energy efficiency and operational performance,” Granvik proclaims. “Our objective is to grow rapidly specifically in electric public transport and become one of the leading suppliers of electric bus systems.”

A tale of two innovations

Linkker owes its frontrunner status to primarily two innovations: a lightweight aluminium unibody bus design made by Kabus, a subsidiary of Koiviston Auto, in 2005; and an energy-efficient driveline developed by faculty and students at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki in 2007.

The two innovations were brought together to build an electric bus under a project co-ordinated by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

“The bus was benchmarked against commercially available electric buses in 2013,” recounts Granvik. “The results were promising especially in terms of energy efficiency – which leads not only to lower energy costs but, more importantly, to lower battery and charging infrastructure costs – so promising that they gave the impetus to found a company to commercialise the technology.”

Electric buses not only are particle and exhaust emissions-free but also produce less noise emissions. Image: Michael Vanya

He tells that the outwardly bold decision to not only develop and license the technology but also manufacture electric buses was easy because, unlike diesel buses, electric buses are not marketed predominantly on the merits of the engine.

“What’s important is how the bus performs as a system: the mileage, passenger comfort and life-cycle costs,” he elaborates.

“It was the only option. Otherwise we’d have to make too many compromises when it comes to the system performance. Every detail of our design has been optimised and is crucial for the performance: the lightweight unibody construction, energy-efficient driveline, vehicle-control software, IoT-based fleet-management solution and related applications.”

Longer mileage, shorter charge time

The Linkker 12+ LE bus boasts an impressive set of metrics: an energy consumption of roughly one kilowatt per kilometre, charge time of two to four minutes and daily mileage of up to 350 kilometres.

Granvik reveals that the driveline has been optimised for opportunity charging, allowing the bus to receive rapid blasts of power – at rates of five to eight kilowatts per minute, which are not tolerated by depot-charging buses – at the terminal points of the route.

The difference between the two types of electric buses – depot and opportunity-charging buses – is that the former are fitted with massive batteries and charged only before the start of daily operation.

“The problem is that equipping buses with such large batteries makes them expensive and heavy, which places a bigger strain on the battery and raises both energy consumption and life-cycle costs,” says Granvik. “The daily operating range is cut very short because of the increase in energy consumption. A typical range is around 150 kilometres.”

Linkker, he adds, is a global leader in this respect.

“Our buses can be charged in two to four minutes. The charging becomes invisible as far as the timetable is concerned. The buses can operate on a tight timetable and the daily range can rise to 350 kilometres – as it has in Turku, rain or shine.”

Intelligent mobility

Linkker has already supplied buses to Espoo, Helsinki and Turku in Finland, and to Copenhagen, Moscow and Singapore. Orders have come in also from Luleå, Sweden, and Malaga, Spain.

“These are no pilots. All of them are in commercial operation,” underlines Granvik. “Every project has enormous potential: Helsinki alone has roughly 1 300 buses that are gradually being electrified. The Europe-wide forecast is that electric buses will make up over 50 per cent of city buses in 2030. This is truly a rapid change.”

The change is driven especially by cities that strive to become greener and smarter to create more attractive urban environments for residents, businesses and investors alike.

Linkker has also equipped the buses with technology that allows it to collect data on their performance, malfunctions and various traffic situations, and utilise the data to develop the system and operations further.

“Our vision consists of three steps: energy efficiency and electrification, digitalisation, and automation,” reveals Granvik. “What we’re doing is using digitalisation to make the system smarter. Once it’s smart enough, we’ll move on to automation.”

In addition to Finland, Denmark, Russia and Singapore, orders have also come in from Sweden and Spain. Image: Linkker
By: Aleksi Teivainen