School Climate & Safety

Calif. Districts Investing In Low-Polluting School Bus Technology

By Mark Stricherz — August 08, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Hoping to drastically cut polluting fumes, several of the largest districts in California are investing in environmentally friendly technology for school buses.

The state, the federal government, and British Petroleum-Amoco PLC are subsidizing most of the cost of the technology, which consists of an engine and a muffler-type device specially developed for low-sulfur diesel fuel. Major trucking companies are working on the new technology with the view that within six years it will essentially replace traditional diesel-run systems.

In the new systems, a particulate-filter trap replaces the muffler and acts as a muffler and catalytic converter to cut down on soot, hydrocarbon, and nitrogen oxides. Low-sulfur diesel fuel has only 15 parts per million of sulfur, vs. an allowable 500 parts per million in regular diesel.

The 24,000 school buses in the state rely on diesel for more than 97 percent of their fuel, officials with the California Air Resources Board said. The 722,000-student Los Angeles Unified and 142,300-student San Diego Unified districts took part in the 18- month pilot program, which ended in June and included a number of public and private fleets. Patrick J. Fitzgibbon, a marketing manager for BP-Amoco, said the London-based company spent around $5 million on the test. Now the Los Angeles and San Diego systems are taking steps to use the technology more widely.

In June, Los Angeles began using low-sulfur fuel in all of its buses and plans to install new engines and filters in 19 buses by next summer, said Antonio M. Rodriguez, the director of transportation for the district.

San Diego has installed the traps in 10 buses, and two others have been equipped with both the traps and engines needed to fully cut emissions. Both orders are being subsidized heavily by the California Environmental Protection Agency, which will allot $50 million this year in grants to reduce harmful emissions from the state’s oldest, highest-polluting school buses. The plans call for scrapping 375 buses built before 1977 and paying for filters to cut emissions from 1,875 existing diesel buses.

Most of the grants are expected to pay for low-sulfur fuels. State officials pointed out that natural gas, another alternative fuel used for buses, sometimes isn’t a good fit for rural districts.

“Ninety percent of California is rural, and sometimes compressed natural gas has more limited range than diesel, because of colder climates,” said Jerry A. Martin, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board.

Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate that nationwide, 8,300 premature deaths, 5,500 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 17,600 cases of acute bronchitis in children would be prevented annually by use of the low-sulfur fuel technology. In addition, the agency is studying whether diesel fuel causes cancer. The EPA has required that nearly all heavy-duty trucks and buses switch to ultra-low-sulfur fuel starting in June 2006. The rule, issued in the last month of the Clinton administration, was embraced by the Bush administration.

In February 2000, California required that all transit buses use alternative fuels or cleaner diesel technology by 2007 to cut down on pollution.

New and Expensive?

But in states where the use of low- sulfur diesel technology isn’t subsidized, districts have yet to buy it.

Officials from Arizona, New York, and Texas have expressed interest in buying the technology, but have not done so, said Mike Martin, the executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, an Albany, N.Y.- based organization that represents bus makers and contractors. “It’s still relatively new and emerging as a new technology,” he said.

One reason may be cost. In California, a bus powered by low-sulfur technology costs $6,000 to $8,000 more than a regular diesel-powered bus, which costs around $100,000. Moreover, low-sulfur fuel costs from 3 to 10 cents more per gallon.

A low- sulfur diesel bus would cost $40,000 less than a bus powered by natural gas, however, officials in the state said.

Roger A. Hansen, the fleet manager for the San Diego schools, said a dozen of the district’s buses used the low-sulfur technology for two years. Their tailpipes were spotless, he said, a far cry from the black, pungent fumes they used to emit.

San Diego school officials would like to equip all of the district’s 530 buses with the technology.

Mr. Hansen doubts whether many other districts will order the new technology. If a district lies hundreds of miles from a distribution center and wants only a few thousand gallons of fuel, delivery costs are high, he notes.

“For some of these rural districts, to have a huge truck delivering it, whew. The delivery service charges on that,” he said.

Few districts are likely to switch to low- sulfur diesel systems anytime soon, added Mr. Martin of the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

“I think it will be like electricity and compressed natural gas, where some districts like and use it and other districts don’t,” he said of other types of bus fuel. “I would not expect it to be widely used, quite candidly, for another three to five, maybe 10 years.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2001 edition of Education Week as Calif. Districts Investing In Low-Polluting School Bus Technology

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Oxford School Shooting: Parents Charged, School's Response Under Scrutiny
The boy's parents failed to intervene, the prosecutor says, despite being confronted with a chilling note that was found at his desk.
4 min read
Waterford resident Andrew Baldwin, cousin of Madisyn Baldwin, places candles at the base of a a memorial with his 5-year-old daughter Ariyah Baldwin on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 outside of Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich. Madisyn Baldwin, 17, was one of four teens killed in Tuesday's school shooting. A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his Michigan high school on Tuesday, killing four students, including a 16-year-old boy who died in a deputy’s patrol car on the way to a hospital, authorities said.
Waterford resident Andrew Baldwin, cousin of Madisyn Baldwin, places candles at the base of a a memorial with his 5-year-old daughter Ariyah Baldwin on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 outside of Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich. Madisyn Baldwin, 17, was one of four teens killed in Tuesday's school shooting. A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his Michigan high school on Tuesday, killing four students, including a 16-year-old boy who died in a deputy’s patrol car on the way to a hospital, authorities said.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
School Climate & Safety Explainer: Why Was Michigan Suspect Charged With Terrorism?
He also was charged with first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder and gun crimes in Tuesday's attack at Oxford High School.
3 min read
Parents walk away with their kids from the Meijer's parking lot in Oxford where many students gathered following an active shooter situation at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Oxford, Mich. Police took a suspected shooter into custody and there were multiple victims, the Oakland County Sheriff's office said.
Parents walk away with their kids from the Meijer's parking lot in Oxford where many students gathered following an active shooter situation at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Oxford, Mich. Police took a suspected shooter into custody and there were multiple victims, the Oakland County Sheriff's office said.
Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press via AP
School Climate & Safety What This Week's Mass Shooting Can Teach Us About School Safety
The incident in Michigan, the deadliest school shooting in three years, will add to a wrenching school safety debate.
7 min read
A well wisher kneels to pray at a memorial on the sign of Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at the school, killing several students and wounding multiple other people, including a teacher.
A mourner kneels at a memorial in Oxford, Mich., site of the deadliest school shooting since 2018.
Paul Sancya/AP
School Climate & Safety Mich. Student Kills 4 in Deadliest School Shooting Since 2018
A 15-year-old boy has been charged with murder, terrorism, and other crimes for a shooting that killed four students and injured others.
3 min read
Dozens of police, fire, and EMS personnel work on the scene of a shooting at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, In Oxford Township, Mich.
Dozens of police, fire, and EMS personnel work on the scene of a shooting at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, In Oxford Township, Mich.
Todd McInturf/The Detroit News/AP