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With 500,000 yellow school buses, it’s time to give children a safe, emission-free ride to school

As global populations continue to leave rural settings to flock to metropolitan centers, it has become increasingly clear that urban planners must focus on the development of sustainable communities, including the use of energy-efficient, clean energy technologies and zero-emission transportation. One of the primary goals being put in place by cities around the world is the reduction of emissions in heavily populated urban areas. It is not feasible to continue to develop mega-cities without the development of a sustainability roadmap.

When looking at the future of the transportation industry in urban settings, it has become obvious that electric drive is beginning to set in on various urban vehicles, including: passenger vehicles, scooters, heavy-duty mass transit and yellow school buses, refuse trucks, urban delivery vehicles, and various port and marine applications such as short-duration vessels, materials-handling vehicles and overhead cranes.

Although it is difficult to see at times, the shift to electric drive in cities is well underway. China has taken the lead with the conversion of its mass transit fleet, while Europe, America and India have only begun to launch electric bus trials in various capital cities. It is expected that these trial orders will begin to convert into fleet orders over the next 24-36 months. Transit authorities in cities including Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Toronto amongst many others have committed to implement 100% zero-emission fleets over the next years. The C40 Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration marks the commitment of various international cities to purchase only fully electric buses by 2025.

The heavy-duty mass transit market is one that is well primed for incredible growth over the next decade but the yellow school bus market, conversely, has been slow to develop. For comparative purposes, the heavy-duty mass transit market in North America currently represents approximately 52,000 units, growing to 69,000 units by 2022. Meanwhile, according to School Bus Fleet, the American national school bus fleet is currently nearing 500,000 units, with the state of New York having the largest fleet at 45,000 units, while Illinois, California and Pennsylvania each have between 20,000 and 30,000 units. In 2017, the American national Yellow School Bus fleet comprised 90% of the nation’s bus fleet and was the most dominant form of mass transit, having traveled over 3 billion miles.

Lion Electric – Zero Emission Pure Battery Electric Yellow School Bus

After reviewing this data it is clear that although the conversion of heavy-duty mass transit market is important, the larger opportunity to reduce ground-level emissions in urban regions and to boost the lithium battery supply chain remains with the 500,000-strong Yellow School Bus fleet in America. Assuming one 200KWh lithium battery-based energy storage system per bus, the conversion of the total fleet represents an opportunity for the battery supply chain to support 100GWh of battery capacity and 85,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent.

Every day in the USA, over 25 million children and thousands of school bus drivers are forced to breathe polluted air on the commute to school, which can have a negative impact on student health and overall well-being. This is especially true for students who already suffer from respiratory conditions. The benefit with the shift to electric drive is the immediate reduction in ground-level pollutants that can harm the health of students, bus drivers and citizens of local communities that are currently exposed to the diesel exhaust emission that results from transporting students on their daily commute.

Despite it being obvious that all societies should immediately shift away from transporting children in diesel school buses, there has been little progress in moving this agenda forward. Since the fallout from the Volkswagen Diesel Scandal settlement funds has now begun to surface throughout various regions of the USA, some regions have committed settlement funds to the deployment of electric school bus pilot projects to determine optimization across a range of route conditions, types of weather and geographical areas.

School buses generally operate on fixed routes, which makes the planning and operation of electric buses much simpler to coordinate. Of course, the primary challenge is associated with the upfront financing cost, especially since electric buses entail a higher initial capital outlay than diesel vehicles. As with most new technologies, some level of government support is required to stimulate a fundamental shift.

Urban planners must now begin to consider the integration of electric drive urban vehicles so that the deployment of clean, electric school buses will be accelerated and children can enjoy a clean, pollution-free ride to school on their daily commute. Replacing diesel school buses with electric vehicles has direct and positive impacts on children, including an improvement in health, education performance and overall wellbeing. Of course, this is also true for adult citizens of communities throughout America.

To clean up the air we must electrify the transportation system as quickly as possible.