Advantages of Biofuel in School Buses

By: L. Scott
Girl on Bus

Biodiesel in school buses can reduce pollution.

Outdoor air pollution created by idling cars has an impact on everyone’s health. However, children are the most susceptible to air pollution since their respiratory systems are still developing. In Georgia, approximately 10 percent of children have asthma, a chronic disease of inflamed airways and lungs which restrict a child’s ability to breathe.

More than 24 million children ride a school bus to and from school every day. Students spend an average of an hour and a half on the bus daily. School bus commutes potentially expose children to significantly high concentrations of pollutants, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recent study. A switch to biodiesel is one of the best options for school districts to implement to protect student health. School districts that use biodiesel fuel have reported a decrease in student complaints about headaches and fewer missed school days. Drivers of biodiesel buses also report fewer asthmatic attacks and headaches.

Fuel cost is one of the main considerations facing school districts that are contemplating a switch. Historically, biodiesel costs one cent per gallon more than conventional diesel for every percent added to the blend. (For example, B10 is 10 cents more per gallon.) However, many school districts save thousands of dollars per year by using biodiesel due to decreases in maintenance costs, which offsets the price differential.

Programs exist at the Federal and State levels that offer incentives for school districts to utilize biodiesel fuel. For example, the US EPA’s Clean Bus USA Program financially supports schools that make clean technology changes to their transportation fleets. The goal of the program is to reduce both children’s exposure to diesel exhaust and the amount of air pollution created by diesel school buses.

“Biodiesel reduces harmful black smoke and other toxic compounds from diesel exhaust,” said Joe Jobe, Chief Executive Officer for the National Biodiesel Board. “A good choice is to change the fuel in existing buses, rather than by making tremendous expenditures for new buses and fueling stations.”

The use of a 20 percent biodiesel blend (B20) in a school bus can curtail harmful emissions and reduce the amount of particulate pollution by as much as 12 percent. (B20 biodiesel blend contains 80 percent conventional oil and 20 percent biodiesel.) Since B20 biodiesel can be used in existing engines without engine modifications and offers similar power to diesel fuel, it offers schools an immediate solution to air quality concerns.

The vast majority of school buses are powered by diesel engines. Less than 10 percent of the 454,000 school buses use biodiesel fuel. However, many school districts that run on biodiesel blends for their transportation needs are reporting success. For instance, Medford New Jersey School District has approximately 60 school buses running on B10. “It has been proven that biodiesel improves air quality both outside of the bus and in the interior,” says Joe Biluck Jr., Director of Operations and Technology. “Our school district has used biodiesel successfully in our fleet of diesel powered vehicles for fifteen years.”

In North Carolina, Guilford County Schools are currently in the testing stages of biodiesel use. From the inception of the test to date, no problems have been experienced with the use of biodiesel. “The positive impact on the health of children, the community, and the environment must be considered as the main reasons for using biodiesel,” said Jeff Harris, Director of Transportation of Guilford County Schools. “In the future, biodiesel could become a prominent energy source in school buses on a national level because it is a renewable energy source.”

Anyone interested in using biodiesel in school buses should contact the school board or PTA. Visit the EPA’s website for more information about the Clean School Bus Program. Encourage your school district to apply for grants to use cleaner fuel, reduce idling and retrofit the existing fleet. Contact city and state officials about the diesel pollution problem and make them aware of the benefits of biodiesel.