Home Automotive The next big EV push is electrification of the iconic American school bus

The next big EV push is electrification of the iconic American school bus

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America’s school buses of the future won’t look much different than they do today iconic design: The wheel still spins. The horn honks, honks, honks, the wipers hiss, hiss, hiss.However, if the transition from fossil fuels keep accelerating, engine stuck vroom, vroom, vroom. It’s electric, so it doesn’t make much noise.

Today most school buses run on diesel.of Climate footprint of a diesel school bus According to Argonne National Laboratory, it’s about 3.3 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per mile, or about 1.5 pounds of CO2e per mile of the average U.S. grid-powered bus footprint. ) is more than twice as large asThe majority of America’s school bus fleet — the largest mass transit system in the country — Electrification leads to significant emissions reductions.

Moreover, the diesel exhaust carcinogenicAlso, certain components of exhaust fumes such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx) have been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems in children.

“This is a real health issue,” says Almeta Cooper, national manager for health equity for the environmental group Moms Clean Air Force. But with about 500,000 school buses on the road every day, “it’s part of the landscape and people don’t realize it,” she says. As such, Cooper and other parent activists have rallied in recent years as advocates for electric buses. Now, she says the technology is finally starting to pick up steam.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research nonprofit, only 10 electric school buses across the United States were “certified” in 2016. By December 2022, that number has jumped to 5,612. (This tally does not include a partnership between bus distributor Midwest Transit Equipment Inc. and power system manufacturer SEA Electric LLC to convert 10,000 diesel buses to electric vehicles. So far, only 22 of these buses have been ordered.) Environmental Protection Agency Award over $900 million Through our new Clean School Bus program, we primarily fund non-diesel vehicles that are electric. Bipartisan Infrastructure Act 2021 and 2022 Inflation control law.

Reasons for electrifying school buses

School bus electrification is nearly perfect. Summer vacation means that buses don’t draw power from the grid during the hottest months of the year when power demand can peak. In fact, bus batteries can potentially be a resource. send electricity back to the grid.

A fully charged electric bus has a range of over 100 miles and covers most routes. There is also a natural window for recharging during the day while the kids are in class.

For example, consider Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), a large Maryland suburb that currently operates 86 electric buses. Electric buses typically pick up and drop off students at one high school, one middle school, and two elementary schools from 7:00 am to 9:30 am.

Occasionally, buses move to nearby destinations during school days. Long excursions pose a range problem, but given the 13-mile round trip to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington state, the battery doesn’t drain. However, if the bus needs to charge during the day, it will typically only charge as much as it needs to complete its route for the day.

Thomas Built Buses CEO Kevin Bangston said:

Montgomery County Public Schools plans to have 86 electric buses in service by the end of 2024, with an additional 240 electric buses. “We’re his sixth largest school bus fleet in the United States,” says Gregory Salois, district transportation director. “If you can pull this off, it will be quite an advertisement for others to do it.”

Then, between 2:00pm and 4:30pm, a bus picks up students from school and takes them home. Usually morning and afternoon routes he can complete on one charge. In cold weather, the bus will travel less distance per charge as energy is consumed by heating the bus. Consistent high-speed driving can also drain the battery prematurely.

At the end of the day, the bus returns to the bus station and is fully charged overnight. It takes about 4 hours to charge to 100%, depending on the remaining charge.

But so far, electric buses make up less than 1% of school buses on US roads. If this were a board game, you’d be stuck at “go”. But increased demand and funding, technological innovation, and streamlined supply chains are likely to bring about change, said Katherine Roboff, senior manager of communications and engagement for WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative. says. “We stop ‘going’ very soon,” she says. “We are definitely seeing good progress.”

Most school districts that order electric buses today start small, purchasing one, two, or even a few buses. Kevin Bangston, president and CEO of the school bus manufacturer, said: Thomas Built Bus CompanyAt High Point, North Carolina. “They run several buses, so he needs a charger or two.”

Montgomery County Public Schools plans to have 86 electric buses in service by the end of 2024, with an additional 240 electric buses. “We’re his sixth largest school bus fleet in the United States,” said Gregory Salois, director of the district’s transportation department. “If you can pull this off, it will be quite an advertisement for others to do it.”

The greater the number of electric buses in a region, the more complex their deployment as it requires additional infrastructure and support. Maryland school district highland electric fleetis a large investor-backed startup that buys buses, oversees charging and related infrastructure, and pays for all utilities.

According to Salois, who began work after the electrification process began, Hyland proposed a package that would “be essentially budget neutral for Montgomery County.” The county pays Highland one diesel bus for each electric bus. At that time, the diesel bus cost him $160,000. Electric buses cost him $420,000, with an additional $45,000 to $50,000 to support the infrastructure. (Prices have continued to fall since then and are projected to continue to fall, but will be much higher than diesel for years to come.)

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, another large school district just a few miles from Montgomery County, follows a different model and receives support from local utilities. Dominion Energy Co., Ltd. We help pay for buses and help install and maintain charging infrastructure.

Another way to reduce the cost of electrification is to use ‘repower’ buses. It’s a fossil-fuel bus converted to electric and costs a fraction of the cost of a new electric bus. Repower buses “can be as high as $100,000 to $175,000,” says Michael Backman, vice president of sales and marketing for the repower business Unique Electric Solutions Inc. in Holbrook, New York. Cons of refurbished buses: May not have the same lifespan as new.

Federal funding facilitates bumpy transition

There is now more financial support for school districts to make the switch. It started by offering incentives to help California, New York and other states pay for the transition to cleaner buses such as propane, natural gas and electric models. Now the federal government is also strengthening. As part of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program and the American Rescue Plan, EPA provided funding to replace 53 diesel buses with electric buses between 2019 and 2021.

But that all changed with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act in 2021. Funded by legislation, the EPA introduced the Clean School Bus Program. With a budget of $5 billion by fiscal 2026, it is the largest source of funding for the United States. Low/zero emission busWhen the EPA’s first funding round launched last spring, the response from district officials was overwhelming, says Carl Simon, director of the EPA’s transportation and climate division. “When we rolled out the rebate last year, he had $4 billion worth of applications for a $500 million offer,” he says. So far, the EPA has offered him more than $900 million, almost double the amount proposed. Most of that money was spent on electric buses, not propane or gas buses.

The EPA plans to provide about $1 billion annually until funding runs out, Simon says. Additionally, the Reducing Inflation Act provides millions of additional dollars through various programs that can be used to fund the electrification of school buses.

Montgomery County signed the Highlands Agreement before the EPA program began, but stakeholders have seen the impact they demanded. Sarova said the county has received calls from school officials in Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia seeking advice on electrification. He’s a proponent of electric buses, but he’s been honest when asked, saying the transition will continue to be difficult.

In an ideal world, an electric school bus driver would run three routes in the morning for primary, secondary and high school students, recharge during lunch break, complete the route in the afternoon, and then drive the bus back to the depot to recharge. . One night. But in Montgomery County, nearly two-thirds of his buses perform daytime duties, such as picking up children traveling between schools to attend excursions or special programs, Sarova said. say. “Usually we cannot put electric buses on the noon schedule,” he said, adding that he expects this to change in the future as electric bus ranges expand.

Sue Gander, director of WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative, said streamlining coordination with power companies and increasing funding to help pay for the infrastructure that accompanies buses will help the nation’s electric schools. It is essential to expand the bus fleet, he said. Similarly, there will be technological innovations when it comes to acceleration. charging speed Increased bus range.

Another clear sign that electric buses are here to stay is all three of the largest US school bus manufacturers. Bluebird Co., Ltd.Thomas Built Bass, Navistar International Co., Ltd.The IC Bus — has recently started producing electric models. All three companies say their electric buses are in increasing demand and have increased their staff dedicated to this aspect of their business. Blue Bird expects electric bus sales to grow to more than 40% of his school bus business in the long term, but Navistar’s IC says its modeling predicts that electric buses will become “the industry leader by 2029.” It shows that it will be the main choice.

Bangston of Thomas Built Buses believes the future will be entirely electric. “The clear winner is a completely zero-emission vehicle,” he says. “In my opinion, the industry is going electronic.”

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