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Webinar: Propane Predicted to Lead School Bus Industry

Todd Mouw, president of drivetrain provider ROUSH CleanTech, predicts propane will become the “lead horse” for school bus fueling over the next 10 years, with electric drivetrains to increase in use.

Mouw stated that propane “is going to be the lead horse for the next decade,” but that “electric has a bright future.” Developments in battery technology and more resources and support for electric buses will increase the popularity and use of that drivetrain option over the coming decade, he added.

“I think propane will be one, natural gas will be two, and EV will be three for the next several years. I think gradually EV will overtake natural gas on the school bus side, but that’s probably not until the end of the next decade,” he commented.

Mouw’s comments were made during a free webinar held on June 28, which included statistics on propane’s usage from ROUSH CleanTech, and shared a Colorado’s district’s experience with savings achieved through use of propane school buses.

ROUSH CleanTech provides propane, gasoline and CNG drivetrains for the Type C Vision school bus from Blue Bird, as well as propane and gasoline systems for the Type A G5 from Micro Bird. Building on its long partnership with Ford, ROUSH CleanTech recently unveiled a new electrified class 4-6 truck with possible school bus applications.

Mouw noted that ROUSH CleanTech strives to help districts make the best choice for their operations. “We can help our customers look at the duty cycle and understand what provides the best Total Cost of Ownership, and then compare that to the emissions profile,” he explained. “Which gives you the biggest reduction in both cost per mile as well as emissions?”

Ryan Zic, the company’s school bus sales director, said that diesel used to be appreciated for its durability, cost-effectiveness, simplicity and reliable range. But, today “we can’t be ignorant of what’s coming out of the tailpipe—we have to be responsible too,” he added.

David Anderson, co-owner of Anderson Consulting, LLC, said the 29 propane buses he ran as director of transportation and fleet services for Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Thornton, Colorado, were clean, efficient and powerful. Having had experience with the “astronomical” costs associated with converting and running a CNG fleet, the 37-year veteran of the transportation industry who retired from the district last month said he was much happier with the propane buses.

Propane is a good money-saving option, even without grants or funding opportunities, and it doesn’t require a lot of work to switch a diesel fleet over, Zic told the live audience. Domestic propane producers “don’t want the infrastructure to be cumbersome,” so they often install it for little to no cost.

Additionally, Zic said propane is “an extremely safe fuel to transport schoolchildren on,” and poses no harm environmentally to water or soil. Propane buses “are extremely tolerant of cold weather,” he added, as the fuel can eliminate many of the cumbersome heating procedures and time spent preheating the bus.

He explained that, even when purchased without using rebates or fuel credits, propane school buses end up saving operational money. Diesel buses, he said, rack up the costs when the total cost of ownership is considered, including preventative maintenance, fuel costs, emissions sensors and after-treatment, and full engine replacement. The TCO of a gasoline bus is similar to diesel.

“Propane gives you that simplicity, but it does it while saving you a tremendous amount of money on your operation,” Zic said.

The company aims to make customers for life, even letting district representatives tour their facilities. Anderson said he appreciated the training and service ROUSH CleanTech provides to his bus garage maintenance workers, which is an important part of any fuel transition.

Mouw added that the company also provides information on the emissions reductions propane achieves, for districts that need it for funding requests. The company also has a team that provides advice and guidance on funding opportunities through the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund.

Editor’s Note: The conversation on alternatively fueled school buses and how to secure funding for them will continue at the STN EXPO during a panel discussion on July 16.

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