Local kids have cleaner, greener ride to school
Trips on Morgan County school buses are a little healthier these days – due to a dose of soy and corn.
As of the start of the school year, Morgan County has become one of 25 West Virginia counties to put biodiesel fuel into their buses' gas tanks instead of regular diesel.
Morgan County is using a 5% blend of biodiesel, which means 95% of the fuel is traditional diesel and the remaining part comes from soybeans, corn and other plant products from which oil can be extracted.
Chief mechanic Darren Younker said the county is starting with the 5% blend to see how it works. Higher percentages of plant oil can sometimes raise the chances that the fuel gels in the winter, Younker said.
The biodiesel for buses comes from AC&T in Hagerstown. Transportation Director John Gue said the school system gets deliveries of 7,000 gallons at a time. The county's fleet of 31 buses uses an average of 1,100 gallons of fuel each week, according to Gue.
While biodiesel is more expensive than regular diesel, running at somewhere around $3.85 per gallon, the school system won't foot a larger bill for burning cleaner fuel.
Instead, the state school system's reimbursement for fuel will compensate, said Gue. The state will cover 95% of fuel costs if a county uses biodiesel, while those sticking with traditional fuels will only get an 85% reimbursement.
A press release from the West Virginia Department of Energy says 25 counties use biodiesel in 1,795 of their buses, most of them opting for the 5% blend.
Because biodiesel is made from plant materials and burns cleaner than petroleum-based fuels, even using a small portion of biodiesel in a vehicle fleet can reduce the number of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide emission into the air.
Production of biofuels also creates fewer carbon dioxide emissions. For some, the big selling point for the decades-old fuel is that it can be produced here in America from crops grown by American farmers.
Other green moves
Other fuel-saving and environmental measures are hitting the road with Morgan County buses this year.
Schools have posted No Idle Zones where buses and cars normally pull up to drop off or pick up students.
The idea behind the zone is for drivers to turn their vehicles off if they expect to be waiting more than a few minutes. Not only does that step save gas, it keeps the air around the schools and students much cleaner, said Gue. School buses will adhere to the same rules, he said.
Bus drivers are also being asked to drive five miles below the speed limit to maximize their fuel efficiency and general safety.
The future of responsible school transportation goes far beyond the use of biofuels, Gue acknowledged.
He and Younker got a look at a gas/electric hybrid school bus at a recent transportation conference. The vehicle costs $550,000, while a traditional bus has a price tag of $80,000, so the two don't anticipate seeing one in Morgan County anytime soon.
But small changes like adding biofuels to the bus fleet and shutting off waiting buses are money-saving steps with a big pay-off – cleaner air for everyone.