Getting on the Big Green Bus

IMG_2128.JPGThis morning I walked a few blocks from my house and waited for the bus. The Big Green Bus, that is, a cooking-oil fueled, solar-panel powered, Dartmouth-college-student carrying, sustainable-living-promoting road show.

The bus was a little late, thanks to freeway accidents and massive traffic tie-ups. By the time it arrived, a crowd of moms, kids, and local journalists had gathered.

The point of the 40-state, 20,000 km summer tour, recent Dartmouth graduate and bus rider Ro Wang told me, is to make people realize that small changes in your lifestyle now can make a meaningful difference to the environment in the future, and you don't have to make big sacrifices.

"You don't have to go back to the ice age," says Dartmouth environmental studies major Nathan Mazonson.

Dartmouth mechanical engineering major Trey Roy pointed out that the twelve students and recent graduates on the tour were not giving up their high-tech college student lifestyle. Thanks to five top-of-the-line 215 W Sunpower solar panels, donated by T.J. Rodgers, and eight golf cart batteries, the students have flat-screen television, surround sound, videogames, computers, cell phones, and a refrigerator and freezer to hold their snacks day and night. On windy days, they stick a wind turbine out on the roof for a 400 W power boost.

The bus itself runs on a little diesel (to warm up the engine for the first five minutes of driving) and a lot of used vegetable oil, collected from restaurants that fry food. "We've never paid for the oil," Mazonson said. And if you get to close to the exhaust, you'll get hit with the smell of stale french fries.

The road trip is sponsored by Newman's Own, Waste Management, Timberland's Earthkeepers, Changents, and Burt's Bees.

Below, a photo tour:

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ON THE BUS. Twelve Dartmouth students and recent grads, including environmental studies major Nathan Mazonson (left), mechanical engineering major Trey Roy (center), and physics major Elysa Corin are riding 20,000 km this summer to encourage people to make lifestyle changes to help the environment.

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VEGGIE POWERED. The Big Green Bus runs on waste vegetable oil, with a parallel diesel system that briefly warms the oil and can be switched in when fast food restaurants can't be found.

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CLEAN OIL. Two filtering systems in the back of the bus, plus a final filtering pass near the engine, make sure french fry fragments don't clog the fuel lines.

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THANKS, TJ! Five solar panels donated by Cypress Semiconductor's TJ Rodgers mean that bus riders don't have to leave their high-tech toys, like multimedia systems and videogame players, behind.

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