Efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are the talk of fleets across the country these days. And in those discussions, electric vehicles tend to ride shotgun, with green fuel technology often taking a backseat. But as school bus fleet operators increasingly raise concerns about whether their local grids can handle the energy load needed, green fuel tech seems to be taking the lead more and more.
School Bus Fleet talked to three innovators in alternate fuel offerings.
Fueling with Renewable Propane through ROUSH CleanTech
ROUSH CleanTech, a division of Roush Enterprise, offers a liquid propane autogas fuel system. It’s a dedicated liquid injected system that replaces the OEM fuel system. In the school bus market, ROUSH CleanTech uses a Ford engine in Blue Bird school buses. ROUSH CleanTech has partnered exclusively with Blue Bird since 2012. One thousand school districts across the United States and Canada use Blue Bird school buses that run on ROUSH’s fuel systems.
Through ROUSH’s propane autogas fuel system, the school buses can either be powered using traditional propane or renewable propane.
Propane vs. Renewable Propane
Chemically, propane autogas and renewable propane are the same. Propane already provides a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to diesel, but renewable propane is carbon neutral at the point of combustion. That means no new carbon is added to the atmosphere when the renewable propane is burned. It also has a carbon intensity four times lower than conventional propane, and five times lower than diesel, according to ROUSH CleanTech.
The leap into propane admittedly started as more of a way to save money than as a way to curb emissions, ROUSH CleanTech executive vice president Todd Mouw says. Fueling school buses using propane provides 50% savings when compared to using diesel.
In the last few years, the company has made a big push toward renewable propane. Renewable propane can be produced using a variety of different feedstocks like food waste and animal waste. However, the most common way to produce it is through renewable diesel; renewable propane is a natural byproduct of renewable diesel.
When making the switch from conventional propane to renewable propane, school bus drivers will not have to make any adjustments. The bus performs with the same horsepower and torque, making the drive feel the same, Mouw explains.
Propane offers a quieter ride than traditional diesel, and can help students be more mentally prepared to learn when they arrive at school. Retrofitting school buses with engines that create less air pollution has been shown to increase academic achievement, according to a 2019 Georgia State University study.
Skipping Gas Pumps with Fuel Deliveries from Booster
Booster’s mobile fuel delivery service is helping school bus fleets lower carbon emissions and save time, money, and resources by meeting them where they are. Booster delivers gasoline, diesel, and renewable fuels to school bus fleets, fueling at night when the fleets sit idle, saving fleet owners and operators time otherwise spent at the pump.
When Frank Mycroft founded Booster seven years ago, his main goal was to eliminate the headache of fueling for all those who drive – including school bus operators. Now that Booster has a trusted customer base, it’s focused on helping its customers become more sustainable by educating fleets about the benefits of renewable diesel. Like renewable propane, moving from conventional diesel to renewable diesel does not require fleets to make any changes. It’s a change that can be made literally overnight, Mycroft says. Making the switch can lead to 70% lower lifecycl emissions compared to petroleum diesel, he adds.
Having fuel delivered leads to a decreased need for gas stations. Gas stations are a risk to environmental and public health, and disadvantaged areas are often ripe with gas stations on every corner. A decreased need for fueling stations means a decrease in pollution from spills and leaks, which contaminate soil and waterways and affect air quality, Mycroft says.
Booster services four Durham School Services fleets across California, totaling 424 buses. It also recently began providing fuel to three Durham fleets across Pennsylvania, adding an additional 127 buses to its delivery routes. Booster also provides fuel to Zum student transportation fleets along the west coast.
Increasingly, even fleets with their own onsite fueling equipment are electing to move to modern fuel delivery in order to reduce labor, permitting, and infrastructure costs, Mycroft says.
Making Fuel Cleaner through Oxon2
Fuel Matrix offers a fuel modifier called Oxon2. The fuel, emissions, and soot reduction technology works in any internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. It works on a molecular level by adding a very slight charge to fuel, which creates a heightened attraction between oxygen and fuel molecules. That creates a more efficient burn. This attraction also “crowds out” the nitrogen molecules during combustion, so less nitrogen burns during combustion and less soot and NOx is produced, according to PR Director Tracy Barrett.
School bus fleets often utilize central fueling tanks. Treating fuel in these tanks is simple: add the product at the ratio of one-part Oxon2 to 10,000 parts fuel with a little agitation, and you’re set. After the process, the fuel is now treated and ready to provide cleaner power and decarbonization for fleets. It does not require special training or infrastructure changes.
“You’re not dealing with your grandpa’s diesel anymore,” Barrett says. You’re using what you have and adding Oxon2 to it, leading to cleaner fuel.
Users of Oxon2 report an average of 10-15% fuel efficiency improvements, says Robert Biddle, president of The Fuel Matrix, LLC. The reduction in fuel consumption leads to lower costs for fleets. There are also fewer diesel particulate filter (DPF) regens, leading to a reduction in filter replacements, thus lower maintenance costs.
By the Numbers
In Spring 2022, Oxon2 announced results from a pilot project it completed with a diesel school bus fleet at Chesapeake Charter, Inc. in Maryland. The 40+ buses in the fleet demonstrated an average fuel savings of 15% over baseline, and a 95% reduction in DPF regens while performing under standard operating conditions. The evaluation also included studying the reduction of particulate matter emissions in improving the performance of the vehicles’ DPF systems. The buses saw a significant reduction of forced regen cycles from – on average – every four hours to every 24 hours.
Keeping An Eye on Electric
There’s no doubt school districts and other pupil transportation providers have felt the pressure to move toward electrification. One of the major concerns with electric school buses for many fleets is the infrastructure: can local power grids handle the additional load? Many fleet managers worry that they can’t.
This is where green fuel technology comes in. It allows school bus fleets to begin the transition to GHG reductions without needing to make drastic infrastructure changes.
“Our ability to use our technology platform and supply chain to connect that that demand from school buses to the proprietary supplies that we have is a game changer in letting a lot of these fleet owners find that solve and help decarbonize while they’re continuing to think about and plan for what electrification can look like,” Mycroft says.
“There’s enough room for all of us in the sandbox,” Barrett says. Operators can use multiple technologies and run mixed fleets while they work out the kinks in electrification.