By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
During a recent meeting of the Cecil County Board of Education, the purchase of a propane-powered school bus was approved.
Lower maintenance costs are a major reason for moving from diesel to propane engines, Board of Education member William Malesh said during the discussion among board members.
Perry A. Willis, AIA, Executive Director for Support Services for Cecil County Public Schools, agreed.
“Cleaner and less maintenance are primary reasons,” Willis told the “Cecil Guardian.” “The cost (of propane) has been somewhat more stable than diesel fuel, as well.”
“The fuel is slightly less, but the range and miles per gallon are slightly less than a diesel bus,” Willis explained. “Propane bus range is about 150 miles, at about four miles per gallon.”
“Maintenance, cost of fuel, cleanliness are the major reasons,” he added.
“We are following other counties and our contractors who are doing the same,” Willis said, in explaining the recommended purchase of a propane-fueled bus.
Jim Marshall of the Marshall Bus Company in Rising Sun has a fleet of 50 buses and contracts with the public school system to run routes.
He said that they currently own 14 propane-powered school buses.
Initially, the switch from diesel to propane was prompted by changes in the requirements for diesel engines, Marshall said.
“With the new diesel engines, there’s another fluid you have to use – DEF (diesel exhaust fluid),” he said, explaining this fluid is designed to help clean the exhaust system.
Designed for Selective Catalytic Reduction systems, the DEF breaks down the dangerous NOx emissions into nitrogen and water. It is not mixed with diesel fuel, it is maintained in a separate reservoir that feeds into the exhaust system.
The requirement for DEF has added more work and cost to the diesel engines and while the engines themselves are still reliable, Marshall said the new fluid requirement was causing issues.
“We were looking for an alternative,” he said.
All of the Marshall Bus Company’s propane-powered buses are relatively new and have not resulted in added maintenance considerations, Marshall said, adding that he and others with the company are pleased with their operation.
“When the buses pull out in the morning, all you see is water in the exhaust pipe, not soot,” Marshall said, comparing the propane power to diesel power. He said the new propane-powered engines mean a cleaner ride for the occupants of the buses.
Marshall agreed with Willis that the propane is a bit cheaper than diesel, but the propane gets slightly fewer miles per unit of fuel, meaning the operational costs are about the same.
“They run great, they heat up quicker,” said Becky Minks of the Marshall Bus Company, referring to the propane buses. “The drivers love them. They run quieter.”
“Jim has just ordered another new one for the next school year,” Minks added.
Marshall said there has been a propane refueling station installed in the company’s bus yard which was a necessity since the closest station carrying the propane for vehicles is located near Newark, Delaware.
Willis said there are no plans yet to install a propane fueling station at a county school location for the first propane bus in the school system’s fleet. The bus will be refueled at the Flying J station in Elkton, he said.
There are currently 143 buses traveling 2.5 million miles a year hauling the county’s youngsters to and from Cecil County public schools.
Of those 143 buses, the county owns a small fleet of nine buses.
The county is buying a propane-powered Blue Bird 72-passenger bus, Willis said, noting that the performance of the propane bus is comparable the same size diesel school bus.
The new bus, which is being purchased from a Milford, Delaware dealer, costs $118,040. A rebate from the state will total $8,150, lowering the total net cost to $109,890, Willis said.
The county’s new propane school bus is expected to be delivered in July.