BY Stan Maddux
MICHIGAN CITY — Co-ops are traditionally known for running grain elevators and supplying products like propane for use on farms.
One of the largest Co-ops in the Midwest is becoming a leading provider of cleaner burning propane to power engines on school buses. Co-Alliance, LLC just added Michigan City Area Schools in northwest Indiana to its growing base of customers replacing older diesel powered school buses with models running on propane.
The firm already supplies propane for buses at neighboring Lake Central Schools and districts in other parts of the state. Their customer list could grow as other school districts consider making the switch to buses fueled by propane to reduce greenhouse emissions and save money on more costly diesel fuel.
“We have a lot of different locations and potential locations coming up,” said Travis Nicholson, service and safety manager for the Avon, Indiana based company.
Co-Alliance is made up from partnerships with five longstanding community-based co-ops.
Nicholson said Co-Alliance is a relatively new provider of propane for school buses since technology for such mainstream use of the fuel just advanced to this stage in recent history. “It’s really a new age product. We’re really excited about it being in this territory.”
The five school buses from Michigan City running on propane hit the streets for the first time February 24.Three more propane fueled buses should be here by summer. A $206,699 grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management helped offset the $817,296 cost of the eight new buses.
Denise Willis, a 22-year MCAS bus driver said the propane models also get up to highway speed just as quickly and run much quieter. “I see a whole bunch of benefits. I don’t see any real draw backs,” she said.
A propane filling station at the MCAS transportation garage was provided at no cost by Co-Alliance. Bus drivers simply insert a nozzle and turn on the pump like they were at a gas station filling up their personal vehicles. The above ground tank holding 1,000 gallons of propane will be filled by Co-Alliance once a week. “It’s basically a simple system. It’s really safe,” Nicholson said.
Sue Harrison, director of transportation for MCAS, said other advantages include not having to plug in the new buses during winter to keep the diesel fuel from gelling. She points out how the fuel tanks on the propane models by design are also much more puncture resistant. “The way they’re slanted, if you were to have a rear-end collision it would cause the car to go under the tank and lift the bus up so you’re not going to get that straight on force of a collision.”
The district still has 50 diesel powered buses along with 10 relatively new gasoline fueled models. The plan is to phase out the remainder of diesel buses as they reach the end of their life spans. “In the long run, we’re going to save money all the way around,” Harrison said.
According to Propane.com, there are more than 15,000 school buses running on propane in 840 districts nationwide. More than 1,500 of those buses in over 100 districts are in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
photos by Stan Maddux
1) Michigan City Area Schools bus driver Michelle Nichols-Broad is filling up with propane as Travis Nicholson from Co-Alliance looks on. Five school buses running on propane hit the streets Monday afternoon.
2) Michigan City Area Schools transportation director Sue Harrison (left) helped unveil five new school buses powered by propane on Monday Three more should be here by summer.