Blue Bird awarded $4.4M for high-tech electric school bus

Blue Bird buses lined up outside the company in Fort Valley.
Blue Bird buses lined up outside the company in Fort Valley.

Blue Bird Corp. in Fort Valley has been awarded $4.4 million to develop a zero-emission, vehicle-to-grid electric school bus.

Blue Bird was awarded the largest part of $15 million that the Department of Energy announced in December it would give to organizations “in an effort to accelerate the adoption of advanced and alternative fuel vehicles,” according to a release.

The vehicle-to-grid (also known as V2G) technology enables the flow of power in and out of an electric system or grid and electric-drive vehicles.

“As the leader in alternative fuel bus solutions, the addition of an electric school bus rounds out our portfolio,” Bluebird President/CEO Phil Horlock said in the statement. “Thanks to this award from the Department of Energy, we will be able to pursue the development of this technology based on our many years of research.

“As we celebrate our 90th anniversary in 2017, the timing of this grant is impeccable!”

One of the award’s stipulations is that the bus will be an affordable, “low cost” electric bus solution. Also, Blue Bird is looking to implement V2G technology that will allow the bus to put electricity back into the grid – which may help bring funds to school districts.

“This initiative will provide resources to explore alternative fuels for school transportation while sending energy back to the grid,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in the release. “The development of a low-cost electric school bus is an investment that could save state resources in the long term.”

This is not the first time Blue Bird has built an electric school bus. The company was the first to market it in 1994, Dennis Whitaker, vice president of product development, said.

“Since then, we have been closely monitoring this technology, and have found that recent battery management advances have made this project viable,” Whitaker said. “We should see our first new Blue Bird electric school bus in 2019.”

As a zero-emissions vehicle, the electric bus would be able to take away thousands of pounds of particulate matter from the air.

According to Michael Simon, president and CEO of California-based TransPower, electric buses also could create additional jobs.

“Once these electric buses go into production, there is a huge potential for job growth,” Simon said. “Supplying electric drive components for say, 500 buses a year, would have the potential to create up to 250 new jobs in California.”

Blue Bird has sold more than 550,000 buses since it was founded in 1927 and has about 180,000 buses in operation today. Also, it is a market leader in alternative fuel applications with its propane-powered and compressed natural gas-powered school buses.

The company manufactures school buses at two facilities in Fort Valley. Its Micro Bird joint venture operates a manufacturing facility in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada.

Linda S. Morris: 478-744-4223, @MidGaBiz