For many of us, when we think back on our childhood days commuting to and from school, we think of loud, yellow buses with unmistakable exhaust fumes. But that may not be the experience for every child today and into the future.
As businesses, individuals and school districts across the country look to decrease their environmental footprint, many are making the switch from diesel to propane-powered vehicles, including buses. Today, more than 1 million students across the nation ride to school in propane-powered buses, and that number will grow as we continue to look for ways to decrease emissions. Because propane engines operate at a much lower decibel than gasoline or diesel engines, this provides a quieter and safer ride for both students and the driver. (Link)
Often referred to as liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, propane is a natural gas liquid that has been used safely as a transportation fuel for decades. Its use in place of gasoline and diesel has increased significantly in recent years as public and private transportation operators have sought more environmentally friendly and less costly fuel alternatives.
The ongoing development of our domestic natural gas resources, and the continued build-out of associated infrastructure like the Mariner East pipeline system, is a necessity if more school bus fleets and other transportation sectors are going to take advantage of this clean-burning fuel resource.
The environmental benefits of propane-powered buses, in addition to other vehicles such as delivery trucks and garbage trucks, are real and significant. Propane has almost no nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions and helps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study commissioned by the Propane Education & Research Council, nitrogen oxides emissions from school buses utilizing propane powered engines were significantly lower than emissions generated by diesel-powered buses.=
For routes that were considered stop-and-go routes, NOx emissions were 34 times higher in diesel-powered buses.
This is why southeastern Pennsylvania school districts such as Upper Moreland, Council Rock, North Penn, Hatboro-Horsham, Haverford, Pennsbury and Wilson have all taken steps to expand their use of propane-powered buses. And it’s why Norristown Area And Radnor Township districts are a part of the Eastern Pennsylvania Propane School Bus Conversion Initiative, whose goal is to increase air quality for school children in the region while also providing fuel cost savings to the districts. It predicts to displace 152,239 gallons of diesel fuel each year.
These decisions make sense as a response to growing concerns over climate issues. They also make sound financial sense for school districts and other bus operators. The average cost of propane is approximately 50 percent less than diesel fuel. Alternatively, electric buses are far more expensive and require additional infrastructure (e.g., charging stations) for them to operate. They are also reliant on electric generation, which comes from a variety of sources, including coal.
While the environmental and financial benefits are already there, grants and subsidies on the federal and state levels are helping many public and private transportation organizations defray costs of transitioning to propane-powered buses and vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act provides funding to fleet operators looking to replace existing diesel school buses with those powered by cleaner-burning propane. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants program provides grants to organizations looking to improve Pennsylvania’s air quality through the use of homegrown alternative fuels for transportation.
With a growing supply of domestic propane and the infrastructure to move it safely, it is only logical that more school districts in Pennsylvania and throughout the region will look to convert their bus fleets from diesel to propane.