Propane school buses have enjoyed tremendous national adoption in just the last five years alone, and that should only increase with the passage into law of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the new $1.2 trillion law to improve America’s infrastructure.
There were about 8,000 propane school buses operating in the United States in 2016. Since then that number has more than tripled to 22,000, which transports 1.3 million kids to school daily. There’s been a 960% growth in the number of propane autogas school buses on the road in the U.S since 2012.
Today, electric and propane school buses are the two primary ways school districts, private schools and school bus contractors can achieve the goal of ensuring children have a safe, clean and healthy ride to school.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes over $9 billion in funding for fueling infrastructure and clean vehicles including propane, which is identified in the legislation as an emerging alternative fuel.
- Section 71101: This provision is called the Clean School Bus Program, providing $2.5 billion for the purchase of low- and zero-emission school buses, including propane and electric.
- Section 11401: This provision instructs the Secretary of Transportation to create a grant program for the installation of fueling and charging infrastructure for alternatively fueled vehicles along the nation’s highway system.
Propane school buses emit near-zero particulate matter from the tailpipe – that black “soot” you probably remember from your youth – and also slash nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, are federally regulated due to their negative impact on human health and the environment. They can trigger health problems like asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory issues, especially in the developing lungs of children.
According to a West Virginia University study released in 2019, propane school buses reduce NOx by at least 95%. In real-world applications of stop-and-go bus driving, diesel emissions are 34 times higher than with propane.
Propane school buses also play a role in increased academic performance. A 2019 Georgia State University study notes that school bus fumes drive down test scores. The study correlated better academic performance when children were exposed to lower levels of school bus emissions. In the study, test scores improved in both math and English.
Propane school buses have a lot of benefits beyond reduced NOx emissions and the virtual elimination of particulate matter.
Propane can meet a crucial need at a fraction of the price of an electric bus, putting more clean buses on the road faster to immediately reduce emissions. Propane costs about 50% less than diesel and 40% less than gasoline and removes the complexity and cost of after-treatment measures. It doesn’t require additional costly fluids or filters, exhaust after-treatment or diesel emissions fluids, particulate trap systems, turbochargers or intercoolers.
An oil change for a propane school bus uses about seven quarts, compared with up to 30 quarts for a typical diesel engine. Propane buses also have no cold-start issues and warm up quickly, which can save school districts and contractors money, but also valuable time.
According to the Propane Education & Research Council, using propane ensures energy equity. The more affordable an energy is, the more equitable its distribution will be.
Propane is affordable and abundant and can immediately reduce carbon emissions. Propane also has the range and performance that’s needed for school buses, which often have to drive long distances without stopping to fuel.
Bottom line, the common goal of school districts, private schools and school bus contractors is the replacement of dirty diesel buses as quickly a possible with clean, alternative energy sources. Propane is an emissions-reducing, cost-effective alternative fuel option that is available right now, making it an integral part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.