Every day, Utah’s fleet of 2,987 school buses provide transportation to 195,000 children. Out of this amount, which includes 41 school districts and charter schools, the vast majority run on diesel. To reduce emissions and adopt alternative sources of fuels, school districts are integrating compressed natural gas (CNG) buses that emit 40 to 86% less particulate matter into the air than diesel buses.
Jordan School District (JSD) is an example of a school district that is making this transition. The district, which serves over 56,400 children living in the communities of Bluffdale, Copperton, Herriman, Riverton, South Jordan and West Jordan, began integrating CNG buses into its fleet 15 years ago. This led JSD to become the largest fleet of CNG buses in the state, with 120 (and actively growing) CNG school buses representing nearly 45% of its fleet and has reduced the use of 60,282 gallons of diesel a year.
According to JSD Fleet Director Paul Bergera, the motivation to adopt CNG came from the district’s interest in lowering air pollution and improving student and community health.
Research shows that high levels of ozone and particulate matter are linked with increased risks for respiratory issues such as asthma, and cardiovascular harm, such as heart disease.
In Utah and in Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous county and where JSD is located, air quality can reach unhealthy levels. This impacts children and other members of the community, including teachers and parents.
The air pollutants which are of primary concern include ozone, formed from nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM). In the winter months when the temperature inversion increases, levels of PM rise and air quality issues and health effects can reach unsafe levels.
The initial adoption of CNG buses was made possible by a grant of approximately $14,000 that Utah Clean Cities helped the district acquire. JSD also applied to a series of federal and state cost-share grants which funded 48 of the CNG school buses.
In addition to Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) Department of Energy (DOE) funding, JDS has received a clean diesel grant from the federal government, a Volkswagen grant from the Utah State Board of Education and a grant from the State Department of Air Quality.
JSD’s adoption of CNG buses has been supported by the Utah Clean Cities Coalition which notifies Utah stakeholders, partners and members of program grants and funding opportunities.
According to Fleet Director Paul Bergera, after a grant has been identified the district must request a list of buses from their shop foreman that meet the grant criteria. Next, Bergera gathers the necessary documentation for the application. Once it is completed, he has the district grant writer review the application before submission.
After that, it generally takes a couple of months for the district to receive a notification of whether or not they were successful in receiving the grant. If they are successful, Bergera orders the replacement busses and starts the preparation for the destruction of the old buses.
The initial cost to acquire one CNG bus is approximately $25,000 to $30,000 more than the cost to acquire a regular school bus.
Despite the higher initial cost to acquire CNG buses, JSD has reduced school bus operational costs due to the lower cost per gasoline gallon equivalent of CNG and the acquired rebates.
In regards to overall cost savings, JSD said that the school buses were replaced before their normal rotation; however, the grants more than covered the cost difference of purchasing a CNG school bus to replace diesel and have lead to significant fuel savings as CNG can cost as little as 5 to 10 cents per gallon (or less) with the Federal Government’s rebate program. According to JSD, after a 50 cent federal rebate on every gallon of natural gas used in the CNG buses, fuel can at times cost nothing as supply ranges between 50 cents to $1.00 a gallon.
Fleets such as JSD can examine both the environmental and economic costs and benefits of alternative fuel and advanced vehicles using Argonne National Laboratory’s (Argonne) Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool.