University of California San Diego

Find out how switching to CNG buses helped UCSD display their commitment to sustainability.

The University of California San Diego (UCSD) is one of the nation’s most accomplished research universities, widely acknowledged for its local impact, national influence and global reach. With a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean, this distinctively beautiful campus is both a magnet and a catalyst for world-famous institutes and Nobel Laureates.

With a burgeoning population, the school’s public transit system serves millions of people each year. In fact, UCSD campus shuttles carry more than 2.9 million passengers per year. Forty-three vehicles in the transit fleet are powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) including five electric-hybrid CNG-fueled turbine buses. These buses not only reduce the university’s dependence on imported petroleum, but the fleet will be able to operate with fast charging technology in all-electric mode for extended periods of time.

During all-electric operation, the bus will produce zero tailpipe emissions. When the auxiliary power unit (turbine) kicks in to charge the batteries, it will burn CNG.

University Committed to Sustainability

UCSD first purchased four CNG vehicles in 1995 in an effort to reduce emissions and utilize domestic fuel sources. Since then, UCSD has implemented green practices at all levels of campus operation, and has been recognized for its energy-efficient new construction, renovation and retrofit projects, energy conservation and alternative transportation programs.

"CNG technology is a large part of this; it is a cleaner burning fuel that meets the environmental goals of UCSD."

According to Jim Ruby, UCSD fleet manager, the school's alternative transportation program plays an important role in the university’s commitment to energy and environmental conservation.

“Sustainability is a huge issue on this campus,” Ruby said. “CNG technology is a large part of this; it is a cleaner burning fuel that meets our environmental goals.” UCSD completed its on-site CNG station in 2010.

Initial Learning Curve Offset by Long-Term Advantages

“Many of the drivers felt that the vehicles were underpowered, and the up-front costs were very high,” Ruby said. “To solve this, we purchased newer models with higher performance engines, and the results were significant.”

"Nearly 95 percent of all natural gas is domestic, or at least within North and South America."

Ruby and his team quickly found that the higher initial purchase price of the vehicles was offset by the advantages of CNG’s domestic availability and reduced tailpipe emissions.

“My biggest goal, besides cleaning up the air, is to keep our fueling domestic,” said Ruby. “Nearly 95 percent of all natural gas is domestic, or at least within North and South America.”

“It is cheaper, it is cleaner, and we are not relying on other nations to obtain it.”

UCSD looks forward to the delivery of the new all electric-hybrid CNG buses. They will provide a “rolling laboratory” for data collection concerning the best of two technologies: full electric operation with fast chargers for the lithium ion battery packs and the natural gas-fired turbine for electrical generation for mileage range extension.

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