Alternative Fuels

More and more alternatives

Frank Di Giacomo
Posted on September 16, 2010

Beyond the safety and other benefits that they provide, yellow school buses are undoubtedly the green way for kids to get to school.

One school bus can replace dozens of cars on the road, and emissions from yellow buses continue to be cut. With the recent EPA engine standards, particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen from new diesel buses are down to near-zero levels. And many older buses are being retrofitted with emissions-reducing devices.

Then there’s alternative fuels. As noted in our Maintenance Survey last year, diesel is still by far the most common fuel used for school buses, and gasoline is second. We asked survey respondents which fuels some or all of their school buses are powered by. The results were:
• Diesel: 96 percent of respondents
• Gasoline: 38 percent
• Biodiesel: 18 percent
• Compressed natural gas (CNG): 5 percent
• Propane: 2 percent
• Hybrid-electric: 2 percent

There’s clearly still a lot of room for growth in alternative fuel use. Fortunately, the vehicle options for pupil transportation operations continue to grow.

As you’ll see in this story, the new propane-powered Type A bus from Collins Bus Corp. has gone through the certification process and into full production.

The NexBus Propane small school bus, built on a GM chassis, will be available under the Collins, Mid Bus and Corbeil brands. It has an estimated range of more than 300 miles.

Also in the Type A realm, the new Blue Bird Propane-Powered Micro Bird by Girardin became available for sale in July, with production scheduled to begin toward the end of this year.

Blue Bird also offers its Propane-Powered Vision Type C, which has been growing in popularity. The manufacturer reports that well over 1,000 of the buses are now transporting children in the U.S. and Canada.

In Texas, the Railroad Commission (the state’s energy agency) has for years been promoting propane school buses and securing funds for districts to acquire them. Commissioner Michael Williams recently commended the Texas Parent Teacher Association for awarding more than $200,000 to two districts for buying propane buses.

Hybrid school buses have also been making inroads into the market in the past several years. As illustrated on the cover of this issue, Thomas Built Buses offers its Saf-TLiner C2e, with a regenerative hybrid-electric parallel system working alongside the conventional powertrain.

IC Bus was the first to offer a plug-in hybrid school bus. The CE Series hybrid utilizes an induction electric motor and lithium ion batteries in addition to its diesel engine.

Last year, Collins began manufacturing its NexBus hybrid-electric school bus. The Type A is built on a Ford chassis with a parallel hybrid drive system.

Furthermore, CNG-powered Type Ds are available from Blue Bird and Thomas Built. And many school districts and contractors have begun running their diesel buses on biodiesel blends.

As the alternative fuel options continue to expand and more operations adopt them, yellow school bus transportation will grow even greener.

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