Rendering of BYD battery electric bus via UC Irvine.

Rendering of BYD battery electric bus via UC Irvine.

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is poised to be the first college campus in the nation to convert its buses to an all-electric fleet. The student-funded and operated Anteater Express shuttle service is acquiring 20 buses from BYD for $15 million.

The vehicles are being built at the company’s Lancaster plant to roll onto campus for the 2017-18 academic year, joining a hydrogen-electric bus to provide more than two million pollution-free rides annually. Undergraduates voted to pay up to $40 per quarter to the Associated Students of UCI to cover the bus purchase and other costs. Individual rides are free.

“Once again, UCI is No. 1 in making sure we have a sustainable future,” said ASUCI President Tracy La. The campus has twice been voted the Sierra Club’s “Coolest School,” among other environmental awards. La, like many of her classmates, has relied heavily on the buses to get between classes and her job.

While other schools have added some alternative energy transportation in recent years, UCI is the first to completely scrap its traditional diesel fuel-powered buses, officials said.

La, 21, credited past ASUCI leaders for a student referendum in 2013 that called for expansion and update of the popular, sometimes overcrowded campus system. Including a requirement that the buses use clean energy helped the measure pass, she said. A survey of students last year found that of an array of transportation options, the top priority was providing electric buses over conventional ones.

“It’s a lot quieter, a lot cleaner,” La said of the ride on one of the hydrogen buses already in service.

Going all-electric supports the University of California’s pledge to emit net-zero carbon greenhouse gases from buildings and vehicles by 2025. UCI will slash tons of carbon dioxide and harmful soot annually by replacing diesel with electric buses.

“The hydrogen electric bus emits no carbon — neither does the battery electric bus,” said engineering professor Scott Samuelsen, who heads the National Fuel Cell Research Center. He noted that while the production of hydrogen power and plug-in electricity does generate carbon dioxide — the leading greenhouse gas contributing to climate change — technology advances will make those energy sources carbon-free in the next few years.

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