The Big Lemon launches plans for UK’s first all-electric route network

The Big Lemon is launching the next stage of its transition to an all electric future today (Saturday) with plans for the UK’s first all-electric route network.
Only Zero Emission buses powered by renewables UK

Last year we launched the UK’s first solar-powered bus last year, and currently has three electric vehicles powered by solar panels on the roof of the bus depot at Black Rock.

The electric buses are powered by a 138kW battery system and electric motors built by Magtec in Sheffield. They’re charged by a 21 kWh solar array on the roof of the depot, and can do approximately 100 miles on one charge, saving 140kg of CO2 emissions every day.

The Big Lemon won contracts last year to operate six routes in the city (the 16, 47, 52, 56, 57 and 66) and aims to be the first bus company in the UK to run its whole public bus network with electric vehicles.

Last year we won £0.5m funding from the Department for Transport as part of the government’s Low Emission Bus Scheme to part-fund three brand new electric buses, and today we are launching our Solar Bus Bond to raise £405,000 to fund the rest of the cost. The three buses will be built by Optare and enter into service in the autumn.

We are issuing Solar Bus Bonds to members of the public to fund the purchases, offering a 5% return on a 5 year investment. Launching the plans today, we’re embarking on a Solar Bus Challenge to see if Om Shanti, our first solar-powered bus, can complete the full length of each route on our network, in service, with passengers, on the official timetable, in one day, without running out of charge.

“The electric buses are really very good; quiet, comfortable and powerful on the hills, they have proved popular with drivers and passengers alike. We are out today to demonstrate the electric bus technology and learn how far we can push them. We are committed to running all our Brighton & Hove bus services with electric buses by the end of the year to tackle the terrible air quality issues in the city, and are calling on members of the public to get involved”
Tom Druitt, Founder

The Big Lemon Community Interest Company was founded in 2007 following a conversation between childhood friends Tom Druitt and Graeme Simpson about how the corporate bus operators were failing communities.

Tom and Graeme thought there must be a better way, and Tom organised a public meeting in Brighton to explore alternatives which would be more community focussed and offer more affordable, more sustainable travel choices.


Our mission is to enable everyone to get around their community in an affordable, enjoyable and environmentally-sustainable way.

As a Community Interest Company, we are owned by members of the local community and our assets belong to the community in the same way as those of a charity.

Our first service was the 42X between Falmer and Brighton Station, using three buses running on recycled waste cooking oil from local restaurants.  Our depot was the corner of a lorry park in Southwick and our office was Tom’s kitchen table.

The Big Lemon bus depot in 2007. The buses were fuelled by waste cooking oil processed in our friend Peter Paul’s garden shed, and pumped out of the back of an old van

Our service quickly became popular with passengers, and our drivers soon gained a reputation for giving a friendly, personal service.  Over the next few years we increased our services, moved to a proper depot near Brighton Marina and started offering coach hire, music festival transport, waste cooking oil collection and a programme of Sunday Walks.

Since our launch in 2007 over four million passenger journeys have been made on The Big Lemon.  We have driven over 2 million miles, putting over a thousand tonnes of waste cooking oil to good use, and saving over 1800 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the process.

Over the last two years we have been working on a project to turn our buses electric.  The environmental benefits of using biodiesel from waste cooking oil are huge, with an average 86% reduction in CO2 emissions.  However there are still tailpipe emissions, and these do of course contribute to poor air quality in urban areas.

North Street
The Argus reporting on air pollution in Brighton last year.  North Street is one of the most congested streets in the city;  and with most bus routes passing through it is essential that we make the transition to zero-emission buses.

The quality of the air we breathe  in Britain’s towns and cities is a national scandal.  A report by the Royal College of Physicians in 2017 assessed particulate levels in 51 UK towns and cities and found 44 of them, including Brighton & Hove, had air which the World Health Organisation considers “too dangerous to breathe”.

According to Brighton & Hove City Council’s Air Quality Action Plan (October 2015) air pollution is linked to 175 premature deaths in the city every year.

Tailpipe emissions by route

(Euro 5 diesel)

Carbon dioxide

(CO2 kg/yr)

Carbon monoxide (CO  kg/yr) Hydro-carbons

(HC  kg/yr)

Nitrogen Oxides

(NOx  kg/yr)

Particulates (PM kg/yr)
16 43,292 22.43 10.32 8.08 0.22
47 126,582 65.59 30.17 23.61 0.66
52 81,878 42.42 19.52 15.27 0.42
56 106,347 55.10 25.35 19.84 0.55
57 26,463 13.71 6.31 4.94 0.14
66 24,469 12.68 5.83 4.56 0.13
All routes 409,032 212 97.5 76.3 2.12
Electric 0 0 0 0 0
Saving per year 409,032 212 97.5 76.3 2.12

The Big Lemon believes buses have a big role to play in solving the UK’s air quality crisis and in 2016 we launched a campaign to go electric.  We raised £250,000 through a community bond issue, bought two mid-life diesel buses and converted them to electric.

With the help of the M&S Community Energy Fund, 172 crowdfunding supporters and over 1500 voters, we also raised enough money for a 21kW solar array on our depot roof, enough to power our offices and workshops and the two electric buses.

The first one launched last April, with the second one joined it in July.  Both buses have proved a hit with passengers and drivers alike, offering a much quieter, smoother, more comfortable ride.

Waving Sponsors - Electric Bus Launch

Last autumn The Big Lemon won contracts for additional local bus services, so we now operate routes 16, 47, 52, 56, 57 and 66, serving the communities of Portslade, Hangleton, Patcham, Hollingbury, Woodingdean, Ovingdean, Rottingdean and Saltdean.

These services provide connections to Seven Dials, Brighton Station and the city centre, London Road, Fiveways, Kemptown, the Hospital and Brighton Marina.

The Big Lemon Brighton & Hove Bus Route Map 2018
The Big Lemon’s Brighton & Hove Route Map. Services are operated on behalf of Brighton & Hove City Council and are part of the Brighton & Hove Quality Bus Partnership. All tickets are interchangeable between Brighton & Hove Buses, Compass Bus and The Big Lemon

Our goal is to run all of these services with electric buses, which means we need at least four more.  Now we have tried the technology and know it works, the next challenge is to raise the money required for the vehicles.

In total, the funding required for four electric buses is just over a million pounds.  However we have been very lucky with our efforts to raise funding for the vehicles, with Brighton & Hove City Council committing £114,000 from their Clean Bus Fund for another electric bus conversion, and the Department for Transport committing £513,000 towards the purchase of three brand new electric buses.

To take advantage of these funds we have to raise the remaining £405,000.

What do we need to get four more electric buses?

One 218 kWh Magtec retrofit @£114,000 £114,000
Three Optare Solo 138 kWh electric buses @£289,000 £867,000
Charging infrastructure £51,000
Total £1,032,000

Where is the money coming from?

Clean Bus Fund £114,000
DfT Low Emission Bus Scheme £513,000
Bond issue £405,000
Total £1,032,000

In order to do this we have launched a three year bond at 4%, and a five year bond at 5%. The minimum investment is £100, and interest will be paid annually.  The buses will be offered as security on all investments.

Big Lemon Solar Bus
Lovely message from a happy tweeter!
Investment per bond £100 £100
Period 3 Years 5 Years
Return on investment 4% pa 5% pa
Interest per bond over the period £12 £25
Closing date for applications 30-Apr-18 30-Apr-18

We have a strong team of committed people led by Founder and Chief Executive Tom Druitt and supported by an active Board of Directors with over 70 years of business experience between them.  Our day-to-day operations are led by our Management Team, committed to The Big Lemon’s values of community, sustainability, and empowerment, and many of whom have been with the Company since the very early days.  And our services are provided by an engaged and committed team of the best of Brighton & Hove’s bus and coach drivers.

Team Lemon Brighton 2018
Team Lemon in Brighton with our first solar bus, January 2018

The Big Lemon is accredited with international quality standard ISO9001, and sustainability standard ISO14001. We are a Living Wage employer, and have won a number of accolades in recent years including the Green Business Award and Award for Innovation at the 2016 Brighton & Hove Independent Business Awards, the Best Place to Work, Best Green Business and Business of the Year at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards 2016, Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year at the UK Social Enterprise Awards 2016 and Most Sustainable Business at the Sussex Business Awards 2017.

Copy of IMAG7246_1
Last year we celebrated our 10th Birthday and won the “Most Sustainable Business” Award at the Sussex Business Awards

Will you help us make Brighton & Hove a healthier place to live?

Across the UK, air pollution and congestion blights our cities, communities are losing their bus services, and climate change is beginning to be felt all around us.  Big business has failed to address the challenges we face, and it is up to us to make a difference through the work we do in our communities.

We have a huge opportunity. With the Clean Bus Fund and the Low Emission Bus Scheme we have more than half the funds we need to bring four more zero-emissions electric buses to the streets of Brighton & Hove. With lower running costs than diesel buses, these buses will help us make those services that people rely on in our outlying communities more viable, so they can be maintained long into the future.  With the experience we gain, we can help other communities safeguard and develop their own sustainable transport.  But we can only take advantage of this funding and make these things happen with your help!

Many thanks for your support

Tom Druitt FRSA

Founder and Chief Executive

Tom driving small

For a Solar Bus Bond Prospectus please click on the image below:

Prospectus 2018

All investments are covered by our Solar Bus Bond Agreements:

If you’d like to invest in our Solar Bus Bonds please complete the fields below:



Brighton's solar electric bus preparing for the next trip to Woodingdean
Brighton’s solar electric bus preparing for the next trip to Woodingdean

Upon receipt of your application we will send you an invoice for the funds with details of how to transfer the funds.

Upon receipt of your funds we will issue a bond certificate within 14 days. Your bond certificate will be dated the date of receipt of your funds and your investment will be returned to you with interest at the end of the term.

We reserve the right to refuse investments and we do not need to give a reason. The Big Lemon does not give financial advice and you are advised to seek independent financial advice on your investments.

This Solar Bus Bond issue falls outside the scope of regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority and is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

The Big Lemon CIC is Registered in England & Wales, Number 06045786
Registered Office: Protran House, Boundary Road, Brighton BN2 5TJ
Telephone: 01273 681681


3 thoughts on “The Big Lemon launches plans for UK’s first all-electric route network

  1. Hi Tom Our two year bond cert no. 122 has ended and we would like to roll it over into a new 5 year Bond. Can’t afford it now but would we be able to buy some more of these bonds in 3 or 4 months time? Best of Luck with the buses, Robin

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    1. Hi Robin, that’s wonderful, thank you! And yes, get in touch when the time is right 🙂
      All the best and thanks for your support!

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