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California schools adopting propane-powered buses

A California school bus powered by propane. (Photo: SchoolBusFleet.com)

In the last decade, numerous California school districts have adopted propane-based school buses in an attempt to eliminate costs and toxic emissions.

Since 2013, the Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento has added 16 propane buses to its fleet and expects up to 12 more in the next month.

Propane auto gas, as it’s called, is “a proven way to dramatically decrease oxides of nitrogen emissions in communities,” noted a recent study by West University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions. The report shed light on the positive effects of propane-powered school buses replacing old, diesel-powered buses.

School districts across the state are now using propane-powered buses — including Anaheim, Baldwin Park, Keppel Union, Los Angeles, Fullerton, Inglewood, Riverside and Redlands.

Gary Dodson, manager of fleet maintenance for Elk Grove School District, says the auto gas buses are very reliable and save costs. “They don’t require the exhaust after treatment that diesel requires and it will be saving us from expensive maintenance within 10 to 15 years of a diesel engine’s life,” he said.

The national average price per gallon of diesel is just over $3, gasoline is $2.76 and auto gas is roughly $1.50 less per gallon than gasoline.

“Schools save an average of $3,000 to $5,000 per bus,” says Tucker Perkins, president and CEO of the Propane Education and Research Council. Perkins estimates that if all diesel school buses across the United States were swapped with propane-fueled buses, the savings would be enough to cover the cost to hire 23,000 teachers.

“Propane and diesel buses are about the same price, within four- to-five percent, and electric buses can be three-times the cost. The real criminals in the story are the pre-2007 diesel buses,” Perkins said.

School districts across the state are now using propane-powered buses — including Anaheim, Baldwin Park, Keppel Union, Los Angeles, Fullerton, Inglewood, Riverside and Redlands.

According to the U.S. Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, about 55 % of man-made oxides of nitrogen (NOx) come from motor vehicles like school buses. Air pollution is blamed for more than 6 million deaths per year, of which 600,000 are children, the Environmental Defense Fund reports.

“Police fleets enjoy the structurally sound tanks as well, it gives them comfort in horrific crashes.” — Tucker Perkins

Diesel emissions contain particulate matter, small airborne particles like dust, soot and drops of liquids. Black carbon is a component of particulate matter, and comes from burning fuel, especially diesel, wood and coal. Populations with a high exposure over a long period are at a higher risk of heart attacks, stroke, bronchitis, COPD, and various types of cancer, the EDF reports.

Diesel school bus tailpipes emit toxins that children are exposed to, Perkins said. “They are breathing in particulate matter that’s harmful to their lungs and the strong odors on the bus,” he added, explaining the switch to auto gas is also beneficial to student’s test scores.

In June, Georgia State University reported English test scores improved over a period when diesel buses were not used. Similarly, the Brookings Institution found improved health outcomes and improvements in English test scores.

Recently, Missouri school districts switched to propane buses to increase clean air and redirect dollars from transportation back into classrooms, according to the Houston Herald. Nestle Waters North America currently operates over 600 autogas trucks used for delivery. In 2014, Asplundh, the international provider of vegetation management, deployed propane autogas trucks for the first time. The company estimates the trucks will reduce about 117,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over the truck’s lifetime.

First responders are also making the switch to autogas vehicles.

Particulate matter is also found in smoke from wildfires, causing health issues long after the fire has been extinguished, health officials warn.

The iREV Propane Case Study shows the process and amount of time it takes to fuel a propane auto gas vehicle is similar to filling a gasoline vehicle, but if local codes allow, auto gas vehicles can be refueled by mobile on-site fueling in the event other options are not available when there is a power outage.

“Police fleets enjoy the structurally sound tanks as well, it gives them comfort in horrific crashes,” Perkins added. Earlier this year, three propane auto gas squad cars were added to Greenville, Tennessee’s fleet, with savings estimated at $10,000 per year.

Electric vehicle manufacturers are also battling air pollution. Since 2016, Tesla has implemented HEPA filters and a “bioweapon defense mode” air filtration system within the vehicles. In the midst of the deadly California wildfires in 2018, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk Tweeted: “If Tesla can help people in California wildfire, please let us know. Models S and X have hospital grade HEPA filters. May be
helpful for transporting people.”

Particulate matter is also found in smoke from wildfires, causing health issues long after the fire has been extinguished, health officials warn. “Particles this small can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lungs, into the broccoli-shaped alveolar sacs, where they bypass the body’s filtration systems and slip directly into the bloodstream,” Wired reported in 2018.

Tesla’s Semi is said to significantly decrease the cost of the short-haul trucking industry, bringing the average cost per mile down nearly 20 percent, from $1.51 to $1.26.

Walmart has recently invested in Tesla’s newest electric semi trucks, in the hopes of electrifying the entire fleet within the next few decades. Last year, The Drive reported UPS, PepsiCo, Sysco, Anhueser-Busch, J.B. Hunt and TCI Transportation have also adopted Tesla semi trucks in their fleets. Anhueser-Busch has also included Nikola hydrogen-powered trucks into its fleet.

Cummins manufactures all-electric school buses, offering a 120-mile charge range along with financial subsidies for school districts. Since 2017, the iconic Blue Bird Corporation has been delivering electric school buses to North America, most of which are accessible through grants.

Tesla’s Semi is said to significantly decrease the cost of the short-haul trucking industry, bringing the average cost per mile down nearly 20 percent, from $1.51 to $1.26, The Drive reports. “The truck is also promised to deliver a range of 600 miles on a single charge and make use of Tesla’s Supercharging network to along the way, so as long as Tesla opens it up to commercial use.”

Elk Grove Unified School District currently has up to four Lion Electric Co. buses on routes but fear the 65-mile range they are currently getting is limiting, despite the exceptional product and customer service Lion provides. “The range works great for the morning routes, but the downfall is there’s not a lot of grant money for propane,” said Michael “Matt” Sanchez, Elk Grove Unified School District Director of
Communications.

“There’s not a lot of grant money for propane,” Sanchez added.


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