Propane has been used as a fuel for school buses for decades, with a brief interruption in manufacturing in the early 2000s. The new generation of propane powered school buses was introduced in 2008, and has been welcomed in school bus fleets as a viable greener alternative to other fuels. A renewed interest in cleaner fuels as well as a focus on student health and safety have led to an ever growing fleet of LPG powered buses. Currently over 12,500 propane powered school buses are in operation in the United States. The explanation of why schools are switching to propane powered bus fleets center around three main reasons:
Safety. Propane school buses have been designed by major manufacturers to meet United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). School transportation groups note that propane powered buses are significantly quieter than diesel buses, which allows bus drivers a better opportunity to hear noises outside and inside the bus, and communicate with students. The net result is that a quieter bus helps improve student safety.
Health. Diesel bus exhaust is at the same level as young bus riders’ heads. Propane buses don’t expel the black smoke of a diesel bus, so neighborhoods are cleaner, and students with asthma and other health conditions can breathe cleaner air. Propane’s greenhouse gas and NOx emissions are generally lower than either diesel or gas. According to the Propane Education and Research Council, purchasing a propane powered bus rather than a diesel bus reduces NOx emissions by 11%. For diesel buses manufactured before 2007, replacing them with a new propane powered bus can lower NOx emissions 92%.
Savings. Propane fueled buses boast the lowest total lower cost of ownership of any type of school bus. Historically, propane fuel is lower cost than gas and diesel over time. Additionally, maintenance costs are generally lower, including the cost of regular maintenance items like oil and filters. LPG powered buses require less frequent oil changes and less complicated emission control systems that do not require diesel exhaust fluid. Even items like engine block heaters – necessary for diesel engines in cold climates – are unnecessary for propane buses.
Part of the savings related to propane powered school buses is related to grant funding available for cleaner LPG powered buses. Funds for propane buses may be available through annual grants related to the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) or the EPA's annual School Bus Rebate Program. In some states, schools interested in adding propane powered buses to their fleet could also benefit from an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) funded by Volkswagen as part of a settlement. Each state has an agency that received a set amount from the EMT in January 2018 to fund “transportation projects that will reduce NOx emissions.” Propane powered buses are among the limited set of approved uses for the EMT funds, due to their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. School transportation groups that are considering bus replacement or expansion can benefit from investigating both federal and state incentives.
Whenever a school transporter switches to propane or increases their fleet, Smith Gas Liquids Company has the expertise to assist with fuel needs. Contact Smith Gas Liquids Company for assistance planning the next steps for your propane powered bus fleet.