In a first-of-its-kind demonstration project, the Ford Motor Company and Georgia Tech are transforming a conventional school bus into a lesson in sustainability. The new bus will run on biofuel made from reclaimed cooking oil, and it will sport a new hydraulic system that captures the energy from its own brakes. The demo bus is small – it only seats 16 – but it will serve as the platform for a cost-benefit analysis in hopes of showing that school districts can reap the environmental benefits of similar conversions without incurring additional expenses.
Hydraulic Hybrid Vehicles
Hydraulic hybrid vehicles use pressurized fluid as a power source, thereby reducing a vehicle’s use of fuel. The school bus will use kinetic energy captured from braking to pump the fluid up to its working pressure. It’s an ideal energy-recycling system for school buses and other vehicles characterized by heavy stop-and-go usage. Another recent example is the hybrid hydraulic garbage truck developed in a partnership between Eaton Corporation and Peterbilt. Energy reclamation from brakes is also being given a workout in general-duty trucks, shipping yard cranes, and trains.
Biofuel from Used Cooking Oil
The Ford/Georgia Tech project was designed as a learning tool for the Mary Lin Elementary School in the Atlanta Public Schools District, under a Ford community grant. It also includes a civic engagement component, consisting of a school-based drive to collect enough used cooking oil to convert into biofuel for the bus. As an education project with the potential to save money for school districts, hybrid hydraulic/biofuel bus conversions could become quite popular, at least on a small scale. On a larger scale, though, school districts would have to compete for access to used cooking oil with commercial recyclers and grease thieves, too.
Image: School bus by Cast a Line on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.