First published in Cleantech magazine, Issue 4 2012. Copyright Cleantech Investor Ltd.
The Canadian cycling team collected a medal at the London 2012 Olympics – but they would surely have dominated the sport if the rules had permitted bikes using ‘BionX’ technology. BionX International, headquartered in Sherbrooke, Quebec, develops high tech electric propulsion systems which drive ultra light e-bikes.
BionX has developed electronic “proportional assistance”, or what director Pascal Larose describes as a “homogenous man/machine system”. Other e-bike system suppliers (which include Panasonic and Yamaha) use mechanical assistance technologies. Inclusion of the BionX technology in the shaft of a bike, however, ensures a much smoother ride, claims Larose. BionX is also one of the few electric bike propulsion system manufacturers to incorporate a regenerative braking mechanism – which it claims can extend the range of the bike by 15%. As the name suggests, these are powerful machines – although on European roads the proportional assistance must be capped at 25 km/ hour to retain the bike classification.
BionX, which has been majority owned by Magna International since 2007, started out by providing kits, which were installed onto existing bikes. It sold its first kit in 2002, but the company has since moved away from that business model and today focuses predominantly on tailor made concepts for sale to OEMs.
The e-bike market is experiencing rapid growth, driven by a combination of growing numbers of older cyclists and of commuters, combined (in Europe) with a general trend away from using cars. Projections are for more e-bikes to be sold than cars within ten years. BionX believe that a mature market for e-bikes will be between 15% and 20% of the units of normal bikes sold – but that point remains a long way off.
BionX does not yet sell its bikes in China. Although the Chinese market is seeing dramatically strong growth in terms of units sold, Chinese e-bikes are cheap compared to Europe. In China, e-bikes (with lead acid batteries), sell for between CAN$200 and CAN$300. However, they offer considerably less performance than models such as Daimler’s new Smart e-bike, retailing at just under €3,000. The Smart e-bike is driven by BionX technology. European e-bike customers will pay for quality and the average consumer price in Europe is €2,000, with prices ranging from between €1,300 to €3000. Europe, which accounts for 90% of BionX sales, is by far the most interesting market for the company in terms of value.
BionX sells around 100,000 e-bike systems annually in total – but the market for the company, which assembles its own batteries, using 7.5kg Sony/Samsung lithium cells, is driven by lithium battery availability. BionX has a small manufacturing plant in China, but most manufacturing takes place in Aurora, Ontario, and the bikes are shipped from there to Europe. The company has sales and services offices in Munich (Germany) and Weiz (Austria). It is involved in developing the market for e-bikes in Europe, working together with partners such as D Rent (Deutsche Bahn Rent) on a city mobility project in Stuttgaart.
The Dutch were the pioneers in the e-bike market, with companies such as Sparta and Giselle. There are a host of other European players, some of which – such as German e-bike manufacturer Grace GmbH (majority owned by bike producer Mifa), which makes the Smart e-bike – are BionX customers. In addition to Daimler (which owns Smart), many of the major automotive OEMs, including Volkswagen, BMW and Renault, have e-bike projects. In addition to BionX, suppliers to the OEMs include Bosch and Panasonic.
The BionX research and development centre is located in Sherbrooke, Montreal – home to a growing cluster of cleantech companies and technical expertise from the local university. Research areas for the company include the application of its electric propulsion systems on water. BionX plans to launch the fi rst ever electric and proportionally assisted pedal boat on the market this year.
We admit we’re unlikely to see BionX propelled bikes in a velodrome – but they certainly fi t with the Olympic spirit of sport for all – offering an opportunity for exercise for many people who might not otherwise take to the roads on a bike.