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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

The Big Green Bus Goes Biodiesel

By Anna Fiorentino
June 2013 • CoolStuff

What began in 2005 with Dartmouth’s Ultimate Frisbee team buying an old school bus to get to a Seattle tournament has, a year later, morphed, Magic School Bus style, into a “green” bus on a perennial eco tour of the US. For the ninth straight summer, a dozen students, half of them studying or planning to study engineering, will once again leave on June 13 in what they call The Big Green Bus, fueled up for the first time by pure biodiesel instead of waste vegetable oil. Their mission? To spend ten weeks learning themselves—instead of educating, as they’ve done in the past—from companies and organizations in 18 different states, including Washington, DC, Arizona and California, working toward sustaining a healthy environment.

“We still have the waste oil system, but for the first time we are going to put biodiesel in our vegetable tank. Unlike waste vegetable, biodiesel can be poured straight into a stock diesel tank without any modification,” says Meegan Daigler '14 Th’15, a member of the student-run crew, which camps out and stays with alumni along their route. Pure biodiesel also happens to be better for the engine than both vegetable oil—since it’s more chemically similar to diesel—and biodiesel because it is more lubricating.

2013 crew
The Big Green Bus 2013 crew departs June 13 for a ten-week eco tour.

Former Dartmouth engineering students and Frisbee enthusiasts Mike Beilstein ’05, Dave McCune ’05, Cliff Orvedal ’05 and Ariel Dowling ’05, Th’05 were among the original 15 to convert the engine to run on waste vegetable oil from restaurants. They added solar panels that now power computers, a low-energy refrigerator, compact fluorescent lights, a television, an air conditioner and the veggie pumps.

“The bus is old and in constant need of maintenance, and over the years engineers have helped with environmental upgrades,” says Daigler. The bus continues to benefit from ongoing financial and technical support from Thayer School.

Current Thayer students Max Hoffman Th’15, Tim Serkes Th’15 and Ariana Sopher ‘14 Th’15 and the rest of the crew are also giving their summer pad a mini makeover that will transform the layout and vibe of the inside of the bus from a kids camp into an actual apartment.

Over the years, the bus has been retrofitted to model a sustainable home, from the inverter, which takes solar-powered, deep-cycle batteries to run the appliances on board, recycled glass and concrete countertops, right down to the sustainably harvested plywood floors. And most all of it is donated by those The Big Green Bus crew meet in their travels.

“We do all fundraising ourselves, put together sponsorship packages, and reach out to Big Green Bus alumni (there are now 108),” says Daigler, one of the few students to go on more than one tour—she also rode the bus in 2011. “What the crew wants to get out of the summer is up to them and can change from year to year. In the past five years, that’s shifted from educating others to a learning model where we listen and share the stories we hear from various places with those at the next stop.”

Along their route, The Big Green Bus crew will blog about sustainability stories of urban gardens, national parks, biodiesel fuel stations, you name it, specifically addressing the question of how to promote sustainable technologies in all kinds of communities, even where residents are struggling to make ends meet. And when they arrive back in Hanover on August 30, the learning won’t stop with the bus. 

“Throughout my time at Dartmouth, my experience with the bus has enhanced my understanding of sustainability in classes and through discussions on campus,” says Daigler.

Tags: environment, students

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