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Liquid propane could fuel Hall’s buses in the future

System weighs costs, benefits of new technology

POSTED: December 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hall County school buses could be the first in the state to use liquid propane fuel, according to the county schools transportation director.

Jewel Armour, executive director of transportation for Hall County schools, said he’s been working with Blue Bird buses and CleanFUEL USA this week to explore fueling buses with liquid propane rather than costly diesel fuel.

"Right now we’re in the discovery stage. We’re just looking into some ways we could save money on fuel," he said. "... We’re the first system in Georgia that’s really expressed interest, as far as I know. Right now we’re the closest to purchasing some of those buses."

He said in 2010, new national diesel fuel emissions standards will cause the price of new school buses to jump from about $80,000 to $90,000, and liquid propane buses, which meet those more demanding requirements, now cost about $90,000. Armour said with Hall County schools purchasing on average about 12 new school buses each year to maintain or grow its 216-bus fleet, it may be a good idea for the school system to begin integrating liquid propane buses into its fleet as soon as next year. Diesel buses purchased before 2010 are grandfathered in under the new emissions standards, Armour said.

Depending on the school system’s finances, Armour said he likely will recommend to the school board that it begin purchasing liquid propane buses as soon as it’s financially feasible.

In addition to having environmental and health benefits, liquid propane buses could save the school system money on one of its greatest expenses — diesel fuel.

Armour said according to CleanFUEL USA, if a bus travels 15,000 miles in a year, using liquid propane would save the school system about $3,000 per year per bus compared to diesel fuel. With an initial purchase of 12 liquid propane buses, that could save the school system $36,000 in just the first year of having those buses on the road.

One common misconception is that liquid propane gets about half the miles per gallon for gasoline or diesel.

However, according to the Michigan Propane Gas Association, for every 100 miles a car runs on gasoline, it can run 80 to 90 miles on liquid propane. This would add up to a cost savings for the school system because of how much cheaper liquid propane is than diesel. And as a bonus to saving on fuel costs, the engines of liquid propane buses last twice as long on average as a diesel engine, and oil changes are less frequent on liquid propane buses, which would save the school system money on oil.

"The more money we save on our services, that’s more money we can put into the classroom," Armour said.

Armour said the abundance of liquid propane, which is made up of 30 percent natural gas, is also a great selling point.

He said in September, when fuel prices soared due to a Gulf Coast hurricane, the school system came within two to three days of having to close school due to gas shortages. Armour said during September, while diesel fuel prices hovered at about $4 a gallon for government departments, liquid propane cost only $2.40. And with a 50 cent rebate from CleanFUEL USA, Armour said Hall County schools could have been purchasing liquid propane at $1.90 a gallon during the shortage.

Armour said integrating liquid propane buses into the county school fleet seems to be a positive move for the school system. He said liquid propane bus engines also run much quieter than diesel engines, which makes for a more pleasant ride to school.

"The one thing I was hesitant about is the safety, because a lot of people would think propane gas would be dangerous ... but it’s very safe," Armour said. "... I think it’s something that’s going to catch on."



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