Alliance students get lesson in alternative energy
Alliance Middle School seventh-graders got a real-world look at alternative fuels when a Stark Area Regional Transit Authority hydrogen fuel cell-powered bus stopped by Thursday.
The bus was in town as part of the SARTA’s “Fueling Our Future” program offered in conjunction with the Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Cell Collaborative and the Center for Transportation and the Environment.
The program included five different stations students rotated through to teach them about wind turbines, solar energy, ethanol vs. gasoline, fuel cells, and, finally, taking a ride around the parking lot on the SARTA bus.
Several of the presenters stressed two things the students would notice about the bus would be how quiet it is compared to a normal bus and the only thing that comes out of the exhaust is water. During his demonstration of the difference in emissions between gasoline and ethanol, Mark Henning, research fellow from Cleveland State University, noted the water that comes out of the exhaust of the bus is chemically safe to drink.
During the bus ride, Patrick Valente, executive director of Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition, explained that in the back of the bus, hydrogen was going into a fuel cell, which was charging the battery that was driving an electric motor. He noted the fuel-cell bus gets 9 miles per gallon, triple that of a diesel bus. “It’s a little pricey, but as time goes on, the prices are going to continue to go down,” he said.
Valente said there are three auto companies that make fuel cells — Honda, Hyundai and Toyota — and 90 percent of them are sold in California. He noted the Honda Clarity gets the equivalent of 60 to 70 miles per gallon and takes less than five minutes to refuel compared to two to four hours for an electric car.
“The problem is refueling stations aren’t cheap. We only have two in Ohio. We have one in Stark County at SARTA, and one in Columbus. We’ve applied for a grant to get 22 more,” he said.
Valente noted a big use of fuel cells is in forklift, which are more efficient and last longer. He said the same company that makes the forklifts also has plans for fuel cell drones.
“Stark County is an area that has a substantial base of fuel cells, more than any other county in the state,” he said, noting that Stark State College has an LG 250 kilowatt fuel cell being used for demonstration. “What they’re going to do is manufacture fuel cells in the not-too-distant future and those will be about a megawatt in size ... about twice as big as the (SARTA) bus and it will heat and cool 800 homes,” he explained. “So the future is now and you’re going to be part of that.”
Valente encouraged the students to take science and engineering classes and consider careers in the energy field.
Steven Levin, automotive technology instructor/coordinator from Columbus State Community College, taught about the fuel cell using a miniature version of the same technology used in the SARTA bus. He was also part of the team that put together the experiments and lesson plans and presented a professional development lesson for teachers on Saturday at Stark State College.
Levin said they chose seventh grade because that is when the state wants students to begin thinking about career exploration.
He said there is a need for the younger generations to get involved in the field. “We need people to take over and think of new ideas — the scientists, the research development, the building, the assembling, making the plans, the integrators, the sales people, the technicians, which is my direct involvement,” he said. “Who’s going to fix not only the vehicles, but the solar panels? We need skilled technicians. Everybody thinks get an office job. Everybody getting an office job isn’t going to help alternative fuels.”
Levin said it is also important to teach the lessons to the young generation to try to clean up the environment. “I think the younger generation is going to be more responsible when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and cleaning up the environment,” he said.
The program was made possible through a grant from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund. It was brought to Alliance and coordinated through Alliance Middle School STEM teacher Juliann Doerschuk, who learned about it through a fellow teacher in Canton.
“I think it’s a very neat opportunity for our kids to see alternative fuel in the next generation and how it applies. It’s neat that they can do the hands-on activities in here but then ride the bus and see how it’s being used,” Doerschuk said. “I think it brings real-world experience to light and they can see what it looks like and what is out there because I don’t think a lot of them even know that these things exist, so it opens doors and opportunities.”
Doerschuk said the school also was provided with materials — hydrogen fuel car, wind turbine and building batter kits — so they will be able to continue the learning process in the classroom.
Published: Friday, December 7, 2018