Natural gas provider Clean Energy serves California’s San Luis Coastal Unified School District. Jim Harger, chief marketing officer for the company, says that operations should gauge cost savings when considering what type of alternative fuel to use.
Ensure that your staff will be safe around the fuel
In addition to dedicating enough space in your bus lot to accommodate refueling infrastructure, Harger says there are some garage modifications that older pupil transportation operations interested in using CNG would have to undergo to ensure the safety of employees.
Any open space heaters would have to be removed, and methane detection sensors would have to be installed on the shop ceiling.
“Natural gas is lighter than air, so if there was a leak while the bus was inside during normal maintenance, you want to make sure that you don’t allow gas to escape and then be trapped at the ceiling where there could be an open flame or a lighting system that could cause ignition,” Harger explains.
To that end, any lighting in the garage would have to be explosion-proof.
Staff safety is also a factor when running buses on propane. Olsen says that the fuel is stored in heavy-duty steel pressure vessels that have been crash-tested, and they are also equipped with auto-overfill valves so that the tanks cannot be overfilled.
Refueling training for drivers aids in the transition
Does the propane or CNG company that your operation is thinking about working with offer training to help bus drivers become familiar with the refueling process?
This is a question that school bus administrators should ask since the drivers must know how to refuel the buses properly and should feel comfortable doing so.
Harger says that Clean Energy provides training for its customers’ drivers, and for operations that have drivers who refuel at the company’s network of refueling stations, there is a two-minute training video to watch.
“All of the stations accept Visa or MasterCard. Following the training video, a two-digit ID is assigned at the dispenser for that card, so as long as you remember the ID, you don’t have to go through the training the next time you refuel,” Harger explains.
Delta Liquid Energy also offers training on safe filling procedures. Olsen says that an advantage to fueling buses with propane is that it is a simple system — it is similar to filling a bus with gasoline.
“Training is important because drivers are typically not familiar with refueling with propane, and it helps them understand the simple process,” Olsen says. “It’s fun to watch because once they realize how easy it is, it becomes second nature to them.”
Many school bus manufacturers offer one or more alternative-fueled buses for pupil transportation operations to choose from.
Several years ago, Blue Bird Corp. released the Propane-Powered Vision, and the company’s All American RE can run on either CNG or diesel.
Type A manufacturer Collins Bus Corp. has entered the propane market with its NEXBUS propane-powered school bus, while Thomas Built Buses’ Saf-T-Liner HDX can run on CNG or diesel.
IC Bus offers a hybrid-electric Type C unit, and, like other manufacturers, its buses can run on biodiesel. Thomas Built and Collins also manufacture hybrid-electric school buses.
Ted Olsen of Delta Liquid Energy emphasizes the value of speaking to colleagues when trying to decide which type of fuel to use.
“Go out and talk to other operators that are using propane or another alternative fuel and find out what works for them. It’s a great way to determine which way to go and what kind of infrastructure to put into place,” he says.
For more information about each manufacturer’s alternative-fuel offerings, visit their Websites: www.blue-bird.com, www.collinsbuscorp.com, www.thomasbus.com and www.icbus.com.
On another note, there is an alternative to purchasing a new CNG-powered school bus. Stephe Yborra, director of market development for Natural Gas Vehicles for America in Washington, D.C., says that some existing diesel-powered buses can be repowered to run on natural gas.
“We repower International school buses through one of our suppliers — it’s a company called Emissions Solutions Inc.,” Yborra says. “They completely remanufacture the engine block using a natural-gas version of the International DT466. It matches the same transmission, and it fits with the same cooling package.”
Editor's Note: In 2011, Blue Bird began offering the Propane-Powered Micro Bird.