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The Journey of Going Green

Last month, we celebrated Earth Day, and many companies and school districts took the opportunity to share the impacts they are making to improve the environment, and to enhance the lives of the students and communities they support.

The increasing investment into alternative energy school buses has been a trend I expect to see more of in the future. Heavier adoption has been impacted by state mandates and increased funding from the state and federal government.

Last month, I had the opportunity for the first time to visit the BYD/RIDE manufacturing facility in Lancaster, California. I joined a tour group organized by the National
School Transportation Association (NSTA).

BYD/RIDE launched into the school bus industry in 2021 but has more electric vehicles on the world’s roads than any manufacturer. Today, the company has expanded from offering one Type D model to a full line-up that includes Type A and C.

“We are growing with the market as demand increases for electric school buses,” said Frank Girardot, senior director of communications. “We are excited to launch the newest model Type C called the Creator at STN EXPO in Reno this summer.

Our first stop on the tour was the BYD Energy battery manufacturing facility. This is where battery cells arrive from Asia and are assembled into battery packs. It is a
heavily automated process consisting of constructing modern batteries for commercial vehicles.

BYD Energy battery pack modules are created by compiling about 30 prismatic battery cells. In the production line, the battery cell voltage is tested for quality control then loaded into the battery pack with cells and coolant technology. After that, packs are laser welded closed. Additional quality testing is conducted after the pack is completed. The battery packs are all the same, making the maintenance for battery replacement efficient should a failure occur. The use case for a second-life battery storage is something you should consider when investing in electric school buses. BYD Energy provides a 12-year
warranty with unlimited mileage on its batteries.

Coming soon is the company’s new blade battery technology, which will be introduced in the Type C school bus first. BYD Energy claims a 42-percent increase in range for the same weight and cost. The company is taking advantage of the economy of scale as a global automotive car manufacturer. It already uses this blade battery technology in all BYD automotive cars.

Our second stop was a bus yard with hundreds of Type A and Type D electric school buses. Traditionally, OEMs build inventory based on customer orders, but in this case BYD/Ride said it is anticipating demand and building buses based on state specs. This is an unconventional approach and business model, but clearly a huge investment is being made to provide school buses to districts and private fleet buyers for immediate delivery.

Our third stop was the bus manufacturing plant. It was huge, over nine football fields long at 550,000 square feet with 750 hundred unionized employees. A lot of transit
buses were being built along with some yellow school buses, too. Multiple private contractors in the tour group commented that it was very clean for a bus manufacturing

“National Express is accelerating its investment in battery electric vehicle worldwide and that includes electric school buses,” commented Keshav Ragunathan, the contractor’s senior director of procurement and head of electric vehicle purchasing. “I liked seeing the construction, quality, testing and processes that BYD/RIDE had at its manufacturing facilities. It is vitally important to ensure a high-quality school bus build. The battery
construction and assembly plant tour provided me some good insights into their technology.”

When I speak with leaders at school districts and private contractor fleets, many say they are considering options when it comes to making an investment in alternative energy. Do you go electric or propane? Or do you stay with diesel?

Time will tell as manufacturers and OEMs invest in new powertrain technology. In my opinion that will influence the future school bus purchasing decisions being made in our industry.

My advice is to do your homework and prepare your team for the future of energy. In person events like the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) EXPO later this month and STN EXPO + Green Bus Summit in Indianapolis next month and in Reno in July provide a great opportunity to learn more about successful fleet deployments and technologies that are here today or on the horizon.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the May 2024 issue of School Transportation News.

Related: Green Bus Fleet Awards Announced at STN EXPO Reno
Related: National School Bus Inspection Training Adds Electric Bus, High-Voltage Safety Expertise
Related: Preparing for Electric School Bus Infrastructure
Related: WATCH: Green Bus Summit 2022

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