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How Will Motorcoaches Adapt to Alt Fuels?

Posted on July 14, 2010 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

Participants in a Green Coach Certification pilot program such as MegaBus are seeing big cuts in emissions and costs. But biodiesel use remains an obstacle.

BURLINGTON, VT — The United Motorcoach Association (UMA) is working with the University of Vermont on a Green Coach Certification Program, which will go beyond simply certifying companies as “green” by providing quantifiable performance measures for them to meet.

Dave Kestenbaum, professor and senior program manager of the Vermont Tourism Data Center at the University of Vermont, is heading up the pilot project for the Green Certification Program. His research team is working with ABA, UMA, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the pilot permanent, with a green certification labeling program for the entire passenger transportation sector, keeping motorcoaches at the forefront of the initiative.

MegaBus has been participating in the Green Coach Certification Program for the past year with 75 of its 2,300 vehicles, said Rich Vihonski, senior vice president of facilities and environmental and project development for MegaBus. In addition to using a biodiesel blend in a small number (about 115) of its coaches, MegaBus has upgraded from EPA 2006 compliant engines to the even cleaner EPA 2007 compliant engines.

The company is also conducting an anti-idling campaign. It uses a GPS system to monitor the process. As a result, it has been able to reduce its idling time by 50%, saving nearly $1,500 a day across its fleet.

While supportive of all aspects of the program, Vihonski pointed out that the benefit to using biodiesel has been minimal so far, especially with the new selective catalytic reduction (SCR) coming out now, which makes engines significantly cleaner. Up until recently, some engine manufacturers wouldn’t honor the warranty if operators used a blend of biodiesel because it was not considered compatible enough for good engine functioning, he said.

"It seems like they’re starting to [loosen restrictions] on them and will let you go up to a B20 blend and will still honor the warranty,” he said. “At first when the [new engines] came out, if you had a new coach, that was an issue."

Vihonski noted that U.K.-based Stagecoach Group, the parent company of MegaBus and Coach USA, has been able to progress further with biodiesel, running a B100 blend (100% biodiesel) in its coaches. The source of its biodiesel comes from "chip fat" or french fry grease from fryers in restaurants. "[Stagecoach is] a little more active and the engine manufacturers are a little more understanding. And they honor the warranty contracts," Vihonski said. "They’ve had a good success rate." He explained that this solution would likely not work at this point for MegaBus or Coach USA, because having a big supplier is key.

"We run a lot of fuel in the course of a year, probably over 20 million gallons of fuel nationwide. And to have a supplier with 20 gallons of 'chip fat' is quite large. I don’t think even every McDonalds [in the U.S.] would be able to give us that."

GREEN COACH CERTIFICATION PROGRAM at the University of Vermont.

READ MORE ON MOTORCOACHES AND ALT FUELS IN THE AUGUST ISSUE OF LCT MAGAZINE.

— Nicole Schlosser, LCT Magazine

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