In 2018, Harvard set a goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels on its campus by 2050 and achieving fossil fuel neutrality by 2026. To achieve this, the University pledged that all Harvard-owned vehicles will operate without fossil fuels.
Taking an important step toward that goal, the University recently purchased four 100 percent electric buses and electrical infrastructure. The new buses will replace four similarly sized biodiesel-powered vehicles that account for more than 30 percent of Harvard’s fleet.
“We are always looking for ways to improve the efficiency and sustainability of our fleet,” said John Nolan, managing director of Transportation Services. “This is a transformational project that can have a tremendously positive impact on the community and significantly move the needle toward a more sustainable future.”
Each year, the fleet transports approximately 600,000 students through the Harvard campus and the transition to electricity is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 220,000 pounds a year. Harmful air pollutants will also be reduced providing health benefits for local communities.
“Motor vehicles are a major source of NOx emissions, leading to fine particulate matter (PM) pollution in the atmosphere,” said Elsie Sunderland, Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Chemistry at the John A. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Paulson of Harvard. “These emissions are a problem especially in dense urban areas with high traffic. Exposure to fine particles has been directly associated with premature mortality and a number of other adverse health effects.
“I am delighted to see Harvard shaping the path to electric bus fleets to improve public health and address climate change as part of the broader pledge not to burn fossil fuels by 2050,” added Sunderland, who is also a professor of science. Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“Harvard takes the responsibility of being a good neighbor very seriously,” added David Harris, Director of Transit and Fleet Management. “One of the best things about this project is that the buses will produce much less noise and run much more smoothly as they navigate the heavily populated streets of Cambridge and Allston.”
Electric motors are exceptionally quiet, provide stronger acceleration, and require much less maintenance than traditional motors. Electric vehicles can convert more than 77 percent of their electrical energy into power at the wheels, while typical gasoline-powered vehicles convert less than 30 percent, according to the US Department of Energy.
“Investing in electric buses will have a positive impact on people’s health on our campus and in the Cambridge and Boston area,” said Heather Henriksen, CEO of Harvard’s Office of Sustainability. “Harvard hopes to be a catalyst for other universities, companies and cities by piloting the transition to electric buses that provide social, health and climate benefits while being profitable. This project was a success thanks to the collaboration between Transportation and Parking, Financial Administration and the Sustainability Office ”.
The project was supported by a grant program from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), which is funding nearly 100 projects across the state to help electrify the transportation sector. Additionally, a loan from the Harvard Green Revolving Fund, a $ 12 million revolving loan fund that provides seed capital for projects that reduce Harvard’s environmental impact, will allow investment in the charging system infrastructure needed to support the new vehicles. .
Each Proterra battery electric transit bus is 35 feet long (similar in size to current buses), has a capacity of 29 people, and is powered by a 450 kWh battery. The new 800-volt system architecture allows vehicles to accept high-power DC fast charging. Transportation services will be charged during off-peak hours at night, when demand for electricity is typically lowest using 150 kW charging stations located at 28 Travis St. in Allston. Vehicles can be fully charged in about three hours.
“Massachusetts is working to transform the state’s transportation system from a diesel-based system to an electric one and in doing so will help the state achieve the aggressive emissions reduction targets set forth in the Global Warming Solutions Act,” he said. Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the agency that distributes the grants.
Harvard also recently joined MassEvolves, an initiative that recognizes and supports the work of organizations in Massachusetts that use zero-emission vehicles for their operations, employees, and communities. As a participant of the massEvolves, Harvard supports opportunities to ensure cleaner air and a stronger economy across the state. To help achieve these goals, Harvard is committed to creating and implementing a Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan, which will include steps such as replacing biodiesel-powered buses with 100 percent electric buses.
Harvard has already incorporated electrical power into many campus operations, from electric leaf blowers to utility and operating vehicles. Commuters can also access dozens of electric vehicle charging stations across campus in Cambridge and Allston.