Hybrid school bus unveiled in CA

The Napa School District takes delivery of California's first plug-in hybrid school bus.

Auto Tech

One big yellow bus is going green in Napa County. The Northern California school district today received a plug-in hybrid diesel-electric school bus -- the first of its kind in the state.

The move is part of a nation-wide initiative aimed at reducing school bus emissions and cutting costs by improving fuel efficiency. The program is led by Advanced Energy, a non-profit corporation based in Raleigh, N.C.

The bus, which doesn't look terribly innovative on the outside, is built by IC Corporation, the largest school bus manufacturer in the country. It uses a hybrid drive technology dubbed a Charge Depleting System, or "Plug In," created by Enova Systems. The manufacturers claim their bus will deliver 70- to 100-percent better fuel economy than traditional school buses, depending on the route.

The bus runs on a diesel engine and a 25/80-kilowatt hybrid-electric power train incorporating a transmission, batteries, and an electric motor. And while the diesel engine is still the bus' primary source of power, the electric battery activates when needed to reduce the amount of fuel required. The hybrid bus can also run on biofuel blends, giving it the potential to be even more eco-friendly.

The program sounds great in theory, but so far only 19 buses are scheduled to be delivered throughout the country by the end of the year. With up to dozens of school buses running in each district in every state, it's hard to gauge whether the handful of new hybrids will make a significant difference.

School districts in Washington, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina have already purchased and received their buses. Other states slated to get the hybrid bus include New York, Iowa, Texas, Virginia, and South Carolina. Most districts have ordered one bus each; a few districts have ordered two.

For more information on the Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Bus Project, visit www.hybridschoolbus.org.

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