Through the efforts of Georgia Tech and Ford Motor Company, an Atlanta Public Schools (APS) bus serving Mary Lin Elementary is now green—literally and figuratively.
The organizations are partnering on the nation’s first conversion of a traditional school bus to a hydraulic hybrid vehicle that runs on biofuel created from used cooking oil. It is expected to be operational this summer.
Mary Lin Elementary is in Atlanta’s Candler Park area in DeKalb County.
On May 13, eager Mary Lin pupils donned smocks to complete the paint job, which transformed an APS vehicle from traditional school bus yellow to bright green decorated with leaf images. The children painted actual leaves in assorted shades of green then pressed them against the side of the bus and pulled them away, leaving the imprints of leaves of several types and sizes. The children also are involved in a drive to collect the used cooking oil that will fuel the bus.
“This is a pilot project. We hope to learn whether it will be practical to fuel more school buses this way,” explained Michael Leamy, a Georgia Tech assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who along with a team of students designed and developed the hybrid system for the 16-passenger bus.
“We expect our research will lead to cleaner, more efficient school buses that will help school districts like APS significantly reduce fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions,” Leamy said.
The reduction of fuel costs is a significant goal for the project, he pointed out. By using recycled vegetable oil, including filtered fryer oil from school kitchens and local restaurants, the school system hopes to bring about a major reduction in the millions of dollars spent each year for diesel fuel.
The Georgia Tech team analyzed two designs for a hydraulic hybrid retrofit then developed and installed the better design. One of the primary attributes of a hydraulic hybrid power train is its recovery of lost braking energy, which is especially helpful for vehicles that operate in stop-and-go traffic and on hilly terrains as Atlanta school buses do, according to material distributed by the Ford-Georgia Tech team.
Mary Lin Elementary already was committed both to being environmentally sensitive and educating children about green energy. A sign in front of the school reminds bus drivers to shut down their engines while they’re parked in front of the school because “small lungs are at work.”
“Our students are eager to learn about new ways to care for the environment,” said Brian Mitchell, the principal at Mary Lin. “The Green Eco School Bus turns a theoretical concept into a fun and exciting reality that stimulates their learning.”
James Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services, explained that Ford had given $50,000 to Georgia Tech for the project. “The Ford C3 grant program is a national challenge grant competition that matches the resources of colleges and universities with an urgent community need related to sustainable communities,” Vella said. He added that five such grants are awarded nationally each year. To be considered for selection, a project must involve significant student leadership and involvement.