School buses are one of the largest mass transit programs in the United States. Every school day, some 440,000 yellow school buses transport more than 24 million children to and from schools and school-related activities. At the current time, the vast majority of the school buses are powered by heavy-duty diesel engines and consume conventional #2 diesel fuel (although a small share of school bus engines now in use are designed for gasoline).
Anyone who has ever had to sit in traffic behind a diesel-fueled bus will understand concerns about children who ride buses to and from school each day. Pollution from diesel vehicles has health implications for everyone, especially children. The use of biodiesel can reduce that threat. Because it works in any diesel engine with few or no modifications, biodiesel offers schools a relatively inexpensive option for an immediate solution to air quality concerns. As a result, several thousand school buses in the US are running on blends of biodiesel and reporting success:
Medford, New Jersey School District
Medford, New Jersey School District began using B20 in in 1997. According to Joe Biluck, Director of Operations and Technology, the fuel has performed well even in temperatures as low as eleven degrees below zero.
"Biodiesel offers the best option to increase our reliance on domestic, renewable fuels while producing significant results in terms of emission reduction," said Biluck. "Biodiesel's primary attraction is its ease of integration coupled with the fact it is a technology that is not capital intensive and can be applied to older units as well as today's vehicles."
Olympia, Illinois School District
Olympia, Illinois School District began using a B2 blend in August 2002 in all 33 of its school buses and about 20 operation and maintenance support vehicles such as lawnmowers, pickup trucks and tractors. The 377 square mile school district is the second largest school district in the state after Cook County outside Chicago. The buses travel 4,000 miles a day, or an average of 600,000 miles a year.
"We're thrilled to be using biodiesel - a fuel that can be used in all our diesel vehicles with no engine modifications," said Trent Keller, Transportation Director for the Olympia School District. "because of the size of our district and the fact that our bus engines run 200,000 miles before they are traded in, performance and safety are very important to us. Our buses have been running beautifully with biodiesel."
Clark County, Nevada School District
On May 22, 2003 Frank Giordano, Coordinator of Vehicle Maintenance for the Clark County School District, accepted a National Partners Award from the US Department of Energy. The award was given to Giordano for the district's use of biodiesel in more than 1,200 school buses operating in Clark County, Nevada.
Arlington County, Virginia School District
Last year, Arlington County, Virginia began using B20 in the county's 500 diesel-powered vehicles, including 120 school buses, according to Ric Hiller, chief of the equipment division. "We started using biodiesel in our school buses because we saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: clean the air and use a renewable fuel," said Hiller. "We're very pleased with biodiesel so far."
Biodiesel is a homegrown solution to the problem of dirty school buses and its widespread use could immediately benefit the health of children, while at the same time helping to protect the environment, boost domestic energy security, increase farm income, and create jobs. The schools districts across the country that are already using biodiesel are true leaders and should serve as examples for others.
July 18, 2004 News Article: Three Arkansas School Districts Pleased with Alternative Fuels
Use of a biodiesel fuel blend in 149 school buses operated by the three districts in Pulaski County has worked out well, officials say. The districts participated last year - and plan to do so again in the upcoming school year - in a pilot program that reimburses them for the extra costs of using a blend of fossil fuel and vegetable oil. Use of the fuel is intended to reduce reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels. The biodiesel mix used last year by the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County districts is a blend of 80 percent standard diesel fuel and 20 percent soy-based oil. It costs about 20 cents more per gallon than regular diesel fuel.
But some of that extra cost was offset in a surprising way, said Mike Martello, transportation director for the Little Rock district. "We noticed something that we didn't think was going to happen," Martello said. "We actually got a little bit better fuel economy on the biodiesel than we did with the regular." Martello said his operation had no problems using the biodiesel fuel. "It makes us less dependent on foreign oil, obviously," he said. The Little Rock district used the blend this year in 103 magnet-school buses, more than a third of its fleet. "The only disadvantage I can think of is the cost," Martello said. "But as long as we are reimbursed for the increase in the cost it is tremendous advantage, I think, to the school districts to be able to use the fuel."
Reimbursement came from the Arkansas Energy Office, a division of the state Economic Development Department. The rebates are available to help other Arkansas school districts offet the costs of experimenting with the fuel, according to Energy Office director Chris Benson. Gov. Mike Huckabee says he hopes other districts will take advantage of the program.
"It shows the state's support for our agricultural economy, air quality, and smart use of energy resources," Huckabee said.
Other interesting links:
Flyer: School Buses Excel with Biodiesel Blends
Brochure: Biodiesel: A Better Choice for Children
Flyer: Biodiesel: A Better Choice for Children, and Buses
Information and activities to teach students about biodiesel fuel: Alternative Fuels Biodiesel (Teacher Guide and student worksheets and activities).
EPA's Clean School Bus USA -- The goal of Clean School Bus USA is to reduce both children's exposure to diesel exhaust and the amount of air pollution created by diesel school buses.