By BOB MARTIN
PLYMOUTH — Whether it was the Environmental Fair in front of the Hartman Union Building or just down the road at the its EcoHouse, Plymouth State University was a hot spot for Earth Day activities.
Earth Day, celebrated Tuesday, has become an annual event to have a number of off-campus and on-campus environmental organizations set up shop and interact with students, faculty and others interested in their initiatives. The fair was set up by Common Ground, which is PSU’s environmental and social justice student organization.
It included a variety of environmentally-based displays from organizations including Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Plymouth Conservation Commission, Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative, Squam Lakes Association and KTM Auto, who brought vegetable oil-powered vehicles for display. PSU’s organizations included the Science Society, Center for the Environment, Office for Environmental Sustainability, Center for Rural Partnerships, Physical Plant, which focused on energy conservation and recycling, Sodexo, which is the university’s dining services, and Common Ground.
The free event went on throughout the day, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m. Only a few raindrops fell throughout what was an otherwise beautiful day on campus, which was fortunate for the Office of Environmental Sustainability, who were using solar power to make smoothies for people walking by.
Lindsey Bandoian, a junior at PSU and a member of the Office for Environmental Sustainability, explained that her group created a solar power module. The parts were from theinverterstore.com, and Bandoian explained that it was made with a basic 60 watt panel that gets its energy from the sun. It also included an inverter that translates the electric current from DC to AC power, and a charge controller that tells the amount of amps and voltage received from the sun.
Because it will not receive as much power on cloudy days, Bandoian said, it has a backup battery charge.
Bandoian said that the Office for Environmental Sustainability will be setting up the smoothie station at Earth Jam on Saturday, but that this is a brand new endeavor. She said that it took most of a Saturday, with the help of PAREI, to build the module.
“About a month ago, we really tried to brainstorm ideas for Earth Day,” Bandoian said. “The majority of times we try to take part in events like Recycle Mania, which is a competition between other colleges to see who recycles the most. This was a hands-on project. It went well.”
Betsy Ayotte of the Center for Environment explained that the center promotes environmental research and outreach throughout the Lakes Region and northern New Hampshire. At the fair, they were taking Earth Day pledges, where they asked people to write down a pledge on a construction paper leaf and put it up on a tree with others.
“We are all at different places in terms of what we do for the environment,” Ayotte said. “It’s been a little variety from just starting to recycle to putting solar in their home.”
Ayotte felt that in recent years, people seem to be paying much more attention to the environment, but added that there are extra challenges. She said that PSU has been working hard to try to move in environmentally-green directions, including being a water bottle-less campus.
Kevin Maass, the owner of KTM Auto in Plymouth, brought three diesel vehicles to the fair that used a waste vegetable oil fuel system. He explained that they are originally diesel vehicles that have been converted to run on frialator grease.
It is a duel fuel system, so the original diesel tank, fuel filter and diesel fuel system is in the car and parallel to it is a heated vegetable oil system. He explained that the filter, tank and line is heated so it can be used four seasons. The vehicle is primarily started and shut down on the diesel, and after the vehicle warms up, it can be flipped over to frialator grease. He said that anytime the grease temperature is in the 60s or 70s, there is no reason to purge and it can just start right up.
The vehicle retains the same fuel mileage it had before the conversion, he said.
“The 15 gallon fuel tank in the back is 750 miles of frialator grease for free,” Maass said.
Maass explained that the diesel engine was originally created to run on frialator grease, created by Rudolf Diesel. He said that Diesel believed that all farmers should be able to grow their own fuel and that a farmer from North Dakota shouldn’t be getting oil from another location. In 1912, he told the United States that they could avoid foreign oil dependencies through this practice, but it was not accepted.
Then, in 2004, Maass bought an $800 Volkswagen Diesel and bought 5 gallons of brand new corn oil off the shelf.
“I proceeded to go right into the parking lot and pour it in my car,” Maass said. “There was an old man next to me with a World War II hat on. He asked me what the hell I was doing, and I told him I was putting frialator grease in my car because I was going to drive home. He said, ‘Is it a diesel?’ I told him yeah, and he said ‘Oh, neat!’ It was totally accepted by this 80-year-old man in the Shop and Save Parking lot, and I proceeded to drive home without doing anything to the vehicle, and it drove on grease.”
The rest was history for Maass, and he said that he has converted more than 70 vehicles locally and beyond.
Down the road, at the EcoHouse, Common Ground President Sam Durfee was working on building a greenhouse from an existing shed that will have hundreds of plants. Since Friday, they used materials from D Acres in Dorchester, as well as Re-Store in Holderness.
He called the EcoHouse a “living laboratory” that has kicked off in the past several years. Adjunct Professor Steve Whitman started a class called Permaculture Design, which sparked people’s interests. It is organized by Whitman and Brian Eisenhauer.
The EcoHouse is home to nine students from a variety of majors, according to Whitman. He explained that the university started it in 2008 as a residential, experimental location on campus.
“Most of the projects done here have been designed and built here by students,” Whitman said. “Whatever people’s level of interest is, they are welcome to explore.”