FORT SMITH, Ark. — As one of the largest school districts in the state, Fort Smith Public Schools is no stranger to making impacts in the classroom, but a recent grant from the Clean Fuels Program for $200,000 is making an impact on the environment.
With the funding, the district purchased three new buses that use propane gas as an alternative fuel source. Joining a very small list of districts in the state to do so.
“I’m pretty sure we’re the only other district in the state that has alternative fuel-powered buses,” said Dennis Siebenmorgen, the Director of Transportation for Fort Smith Public Schools.
So why propane? Siebenmorgen explains that propane is “a cleaner fuel and it emits less nitrogen oxide into the environment.”
The Arkansas Propane Gas Association backs up Siebenmorgen, noting that propane engines are 90% cleaner for the environment, have lower fuel and maintenance costs and have safer, more reliable performance.
The propane-powered buses cost more money upfront, but long-term will save the district and taxpayers more. Siebenmorgen says propane is cheaper than traditional sources of fuel and the buses will operate with a similar mile per gallon use, ultimately becoming more cost-efficient.
As one of the first districts to employ alternative fuel buses, Siebenmorgen says other districts have asked to view the new buses and could be looking to bring similar buses to their fleets.
“We anticipate a lot of other districts starting to employ alternate fuels and we feel like we’re kind of a trendsetter here,” said Siebenmorgen. “We have one of the first ones in the area and we think we’ll have a lot of other districts coming to visit us.”
Right now, only three buses with propane fuel will be on the roads of Fort Smith, but more buses are likely to join the fleet in the near future.
A drawback to propane fuel use is infrastructure. Siebenmorgen says due to only two districts using the alternative fuel, it is difficult to refuel on longer trips. He hopes more districts will follow to spur the development of fueling centers across the Natural State.
Despite that downside, Siebenmorgen says his team has talked to other districts across the nation from different weather climates and found that extreme temperature doesn’t impact the buses as it can with diesel in cold weather, and propane is less-combustible than traditional fuel.
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