Environmental Council funds creative projects to expand sustainability

Environmental Council funds creative projects to expand sustainability

June 12, 2009

What do an exercise bike, compost, an NFL athlete, and homemade jam have in common? They were all aspects of projects funded by Middlebury's Environmental Council (EC). Each year, the Environmental Council funds creative projects that promote sustainability and deepen understanding of environmental issues on campus. This academic year, the EC awarded nearly $18,000 to 17 different projects, 12 of which were featured at a fair in early May. Students, staff, and faculty gathered in the Franklin Environmental Center on May 4 for the Grants Fair, to learn about the projects funded for 2008-09.

Some projects were physically installed on campus, such as the pollinator garden at the College organic garden and the weather station at Dragone Track, which Tim Parsons, the College horticulturist, uses for integrated pest management. There were projects that move around, like the nordic ski team's biodiesel truck, which now runs on waste vegetable oil from the dining halls, and projects you move yourself, like the pedal-powered hydrogen bike. Additional grants funded by the EC included a campus competition to reduce electricity, Bike Week, sending students to Power Shift in Washington D.C., supporting student research and efforts to get Vermont to adopt a renewable-energy business-tax credit, and supporting a student to attend the UN Climate Change Convention in Poland.For a complete list of 2008-09 recipients visit the Environmental Council website.

Ben Wessel '11 attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 14th Conference on Parties in Poznan, Poland, which "in normal, people terms is just the UN Climate Change Conference," he explained. He was there with SustainUS, a delegation of 20 Americans representing the U.S. youth climate movement. In Poznan, he had the opportunity to interact and share ideas with negotiators, NGOs, and members of the U.S. state department. "There were about 500 from 54 different countries, and we were just a force to be reckoned with in Poland. It was just super fun."

Sam Collier '09 worked with Facilities Services on a pilot project to expand composting on campus. Currently, only food from Dining Services is composted, which means that people producing food scraps in other buildings on campus don't have access to the campus composting system. Collier used EC grant funds to purchase small compost bins from a Vermont company that makes bins with odor-reducing filters on top, and she has arranged with Facilities Services to have custodians pick up compost along with recycling and garbage, easily combining it with the regular College compost-waste stream.

Athletics is one area of a college campus that many people view as unsustainable. However, Andrew Gardner, nordic ski coach and sustainability coordinator for athletics, is working with student athletes to change this. In April he hosted the panel discussion "Jocks and Treehuggers," in which NFL star Dhani Jones, pro-soccer player Natalie Spilger, and Sports Illustrated writer Alex Wolff discussed the actions they have taken to make athletics more sustainable and the difficulties they have encountered. Examining sustainability from the perspective of athletics provided a new angle for people to engage in these issues. As Gardner explained, "I was thrilled that the panel brought in some unlikely environmentalists. We had a fellow who works at the College who admittedly just wanted to meet an NFL player . . . but who stayed for the entire event. We also had coaches from a wide array of sports." Gardner thinks that this will create momentum going forward with athletic sustainability efforts at Middlebury. "We heard some great strategies and suggestions from our crew of athletes, and we'll be working to make them happen."

Weybridge House, the environmental studies academic interest house, is going local next year as part of its MEAL (Middlebury Eats All Local) program. House members applied for an EC grant to boost their food-storage capacity with a freezer, food dehydrator, canning jars, and storage bins, which will allow them to harvest, process, and store food for the school year. Amanda Warren '11 represented MEAL at the Grants Fair, and she plans to be back in Middlebury for the "food rush" at the end of August to freeze fresh fruits and vegetables and make jam. Using documentation from families who ate all locally grown food, Weybridge House members calculated how much they would need for a household of 18 students. "We had this giant Google doc that had like 55 buckets of potatoes! And we were like, how many potatoes are we actually going to eat? We've spent many, many long meetings trying to figure out how much food we are going to be eating." said Warren. "It's definitely been a lot of guestimation. It's a learning process, so we'll see if we guestimated correctly when it's January."

Addison Godine '11, Chester Curme '11, Nate Woods '11, and Tom Stark '11 used their EC grant to convert a stationary bike into a machine that produces electricity to make hydrogen. As Godine explained, "Basically, when you pedal, it makes little bubbles." students converted a stationary bicycle to produce hydrogenThey removed the shell covering the mechanical parts of the bicycle and attached high-strength magnets and coils of wires inside the wheel. Now when someone pedals the bike, the magnets rotate past the coils of wire, creating electricity. Nate Woods helped explain this process, "Moving a magnet past a coil of wire will make a current in the wire because of Faraday's law, electromotive force. How much current it produces is based on how much area there is within the loop of wire. So if you coil it around a whole bunch of times, it's a bunch more area, giving you more current." The electricity is converted from alternating to direct current and then flows into a handcrafted electrolytic cell (a tub of water with two upside down water bottles, with one wire going into each bottle). Putting a current into water drives an electrolysis reaction, separating the water into hydrogen and oxygen ions (2H20 (l) -> 2H2(g) + 02(g)). Because these ions have charges, they are attracted to areas with the opposite charge. So hydrogen collects at the tip of one wire (the negative cathode) in one bottle, and oxygen collects at the tip of the other (the positive anode) in the other bottle.

"It was challenging, but it was fun," said Godine. "Winding the [wire] coils was probably the most frustrating and tedious part." Students winding wires for the hydrogen bikeFurther plans include figuring out the feasibility of outfitting exercise bikes in the Middlebury gym to produce electricity to run the lights and audio equipment. According to Godine, six or seven bicycles would be enough to power the gym, but the main logistical hurdle is to figure out how to store and transfer the power to the electrical grid.

The next opportunity to apply for Environmental Council grants will be in the fall. For more information about Environmental Council or its grants program contact Jack Byrne, director, Sustainability Integration Office, ext. 5043, jmbyrne@middlbury.edu.