Propane School Busses are Popular Options
Posted: September 6, 2016
Propane has been used as an alternative fuel for vehicles for decades because it’s widely available and costs less than diesel or gasoline. It is generically known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or autogas when used as vehicle fuel. Worldwide, propane is the most popular alternative fuel. While diesel still dominates as the fuel of choice for the over 480,000 school busses registered in the US, there have been over 7,200 propane operated busses distributed around the US in the past four years.
Prior propane engine technology faced challenges with cold-weather starting, poor vehicle performance and reliability issues. New technology earlier this decade overcame these obstacles, making propane school busses more attractive.
A Department of Energy study on propane school bus fleets looked at 5 school districts that used propane-fueled school busses. Four of the school districts were in Texas, and one was in Virginia. A total of 110 busses were studied. The five major findings were:
• Cost savings – some of the school districts saved up to 50% on a cost per mile basis for fuel and maintenance versus diesel.
• Payback period – the incremental cost of the propane busses and fueling infrastructure was recouped in 3 to 8 years.
• Improved Efficiency – the newer propane engine technologies were more efficient than older technologies.
• Typical usage – The average propane bus in the study traveled 14,700 miles per year and achieved fuel economy of 7.2 miles per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE)
• Energy and Environmental Impact – the total petroleum displacement was 1,927 DGE per year per bus, while greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions averaged 7 tons per year.
School districts turning to propane fueled busses see the move as a cost savings. While a propane fueled school bus runs about $15,000 more than a diesel fueled bus, savings over time is significant. They are cheaper to operate and maintain, requiring less oil and fewer filters than conventional vehicles. There may be an educational need for bus operators and mechanics in operating and maintaining the busses. Tougher emissions standards have also made propane more attractive as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels for some vehicles. Burning propane reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 22% compared to gasoline-powered busses or 6 percent compared to diesel, according to the Propane Education and Research Council, an industry-funded group. Another benefit is the lower noise level. Children and bus drivers can have a conversation without yelling above the diesel engine noise.
One complaint received from a parent in one of the study districts was that her daughter missed the bus because she couldn’t hear it rumbling down the street like she used to with the diesel busses.