DOE Awards $10M for Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Buses

DOE Awards $10M for Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Buses

The U.S. Department of Energy will spend $10 million laying the groundwork for the country's next generation of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) school buses.

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The agency last week chose Navistar Corp. of Fort Wayne, Indiana, to evenly split the cost of a three-year demonstration project that will develop and deploy roughly 60 PHEV school buses.

The goal is to develop a PHEV school bus model that achieves a 40-mile electric range with an emissions compliant diesel engine that can use renewable fuels. IC Bus, a Navistar affiliate, is currently the only bus manufacturer now offering a PHEV model, the company said.

"It's a significant investment and I think it will help move the analysis and evolution of these products along," said Mike Martin, National Association for Pupil Transportation spokesman.

The project is part of the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technology Acceleration and Deployment Activity program, which last year awarded $30 million to General Electric, Ford and General Motors for three projects aimed at addressing barriers to widespread PHEV deployment.

The combined cost of the school bus demonstration project -- $20 million -- breaks down to roughly $330,000 per PHEV school bus for development and analysis. Martin estimates a conventional diesel school bus costs between $100,000 and $120,000, while a standard diesel-hybrid electric school bus carries a price tag of about $240,000.

He knows of about 18 hybrid electric school buses currently on the road, a combination of standard diesel-electric engines and PHEVs. The first one was put into operation about a year ago and has since been taken off the road for performance analysis. Early tests indicate the PHEV achieved 12 miles per gallon, compared to the historical rate of 7 to 10 miles per gallon.

Standards introduced over the last few years are leading to a vast improvement in the amount of particulate matter emissions produced in newer models.

"The school buses that are now being manufactured using diesel power are 90 percent cleaner than the same vehicles made just two years ago," Martin said. "In 2010, they going to be cleaner still because the EPA has released new emissions standards for all diesel engines."

Some 26 million kids -- more than half of the nation's children -- ride to school on more than 480,000 school buses every day. In any given year, between 32,000 and 36,000 vehicles are replaced with new models.

The EPA has supported the greening of the nation's school buses for years through its Clean School Bus grants program, which has retrofitted roughly 12,000 school buses with emissions reduction technologies. A few weeks ago, the agency began distributing $88.2 million in funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 to the states to cut diesel emissions.

Some states, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Maine, will use some or all of the $1.73 million they each receive for school bus projects. For example, Georgia will retrofit up to 240 school and transit buses with new engines or exhaust controls through its expanded Adopt-a-Bus program, while Mississippi will equip 1,300 pre-2007 buses with diesel oxidation catalysts.

School bus operators need all the help they can get, Martin said.

"Because they don't receive federal financial support like transit," he said, "it's always been a challenge to find ways to integrate these technologies on a mass scale."

Hybrid school bus images courtesy of Navistar.