Cleveland, Ohio – They travel slowly with lots of stops and starts, are big enough to pack on massive batteries, and haul almost nothing but people, making emissions performance critical – it’s really a question of why school buses haven’t become electric yet than if they will.
Sure, that’s simplifying matters greatly. Low-cost, easy-to-maintain diesel buses are reliable and will continue to dominate the school bus market, but alternative-fuel options are becoming more readily available.
On Tuesday, school bus specialist Blue Bird Corp. unveiled designs for smaller electric school buses and for electric powertrains for the full-sized Type D All American student hauler.
The announcement comes on the heels of a December, 2016, $4.4M Department of Energy (DoE) grant to Blue Bird to develop a Type C Vision electric-powered school bus. The company built its first electric-powered bus in 1994 for deployment in Southern California as a demonstration project. These new buses incorporate the latest technological advancements in electric motors, batteries, and control systems.
“With diesel, gasoline, propane, and compressed natural gas (CNG) engines offered across our product range, Blue Bird already leads the way in the breadth of affordable engine offerings for our customers,” says Blue Bird President and CEO Phil Horlock. “The addition of electric-powered buses to our fleet is a further illustration of our commitment to provide the broadest array of school bus products that our customers want and value.”
The rear-wheel drive chassis for Blue Bird’s All American electric was developed in conjunction with California-based Adomani Inc. and uses an electric drivetrain supplied by Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI).
The bus offers battery capacities of 100kWh and 150kWh with an expected 80 mile to 100 mile range from a single charge.
Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology is also under development, which would allow buses to deliver electricity back into the grid. At night and in the evenings, when buses are not needed to take students to school, fully charged bus batteries could sell power back to the utilities, allowing power companies to avoid using costly older power plants at peak demand times. If such systems catch on, school districts with electric fleets could gain secondary revenue sources from their buses.
The Type A Micro Bird G5 Electric school bus uses Ford’s E-450 chassis and can travel 100 miles in a single charge.
Steve Girardin, president of Micro Bird, says, “With 100 miles of range in almost all climates and comparable performances with a combustion engine, we are particularly proud that our Micro Bird G5 Electric will continue to further Blue Bird’s leadership in the reduction of greenhouse gases.”
Both electric bus options will be available in 2018.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.