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High School Girl Converts Car to Biofuel Power

Published Apr 17th 2008, 7:35pm by Patty Streeter in Featured Articles

OliviaA high-school student in Honolulu, Hawaii -- Olivia Klein -- has decided to take on an ambitious junior year project. Inspired by being her school's delegate to the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Summit, she decided to build a biofuel car for her independent project.

It has been a great learning experience for Olivia. From not knowing much about car -- not to mention experience with cars being only 16 years old -- she has graduated to knowing how to negotiate to buy a car, obtain various licenses, figure out which car is convertible (i.e. diesel engine needed), what biofuel sources exist locally (i.e. restaurant grease), and the parts needed for the conversion. Wow! What a great project, and how ambitious. I am sure she will have a lot to be proud of when this is completed.


Olivia says that the reaction she gets range from disbelief to misunderstanding that her dad is going to do all the work. However, she is serious, and her dad's role is limited to helping her "learn parts of the car and the mechanics of how to take things apart and put them back together" and that she will do the project herself. You go, girl! It is good to see girls being interested in big ideas, in mechanical work, and in science. We need more girls like you.

It is heartening that young people are taking actions to influence the future they will have, especially since they are the ones who will live with the effect of global warming. One of Olivia's mottos is "Help others while helping yourself". She said that she has always wanted to "contribute to the cause of sustainability and find ways to enjoy our conveniences, like driving our own cars, while doing so in a way that has a neutral environmental impact." This is the kind of concerns kids today have. It bears for businesses to pay attention, since they will be the consumer in the next 5-10 years.

However, on the flip side, there are kids who are still oblivious to the much warmer future they will inherit. I recently had a conversation with some college kids I know and found that they did not care about the issue of global warming. In fact, they say that most of their friends are gadget-obsessed instead, and care more about being cool. Another parent told me that his rather serious and driven teenage daughter lamented how her classmates are mainly "coolly indifferent". One of the neighborhood activists where I live says that he is working hard with local high schools to build environmental clubs and get the global warming message out, but only the more affluent neighborhood schools have shown interest. While I am really in touch with the high school/college demographic, but little anecdotes like this is of concern.

What we need are more kids like Olivia out there. Perhaps she should consider educating other kids to do the same. As Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." We need kids to think big, and find creative solutions to reduce our carbon footprint. But how to support them?

It is amazing how many adults have inspired and continued to support Olivia's quest. This is definitely something we adults can do. We can and have to help the next generation find these solutions by providing whatever support is needed. For example, the seed for this idea was planted in Olivia at the Sustainability 2050 conference by some adult who has done the same and said that "it is really not that hard." Her parents are probably providing tremendous support to her in terms of financing, and much more. The adults she come into contact with in procuring the car, securing the parts, understanding the science are also critical contributors.

At the end of this project, Olivia said, "I look forward to getting my driver's license and driving to school in my new and improved "green car," whose only emission is a little bit of water vapor!" That sounds really good. Visualize your goal, and shoot for it. I am sure the Honolulu air (and residents) will thank her for that. To read more about this, please go to the Honolulu Star Bulletin article.

By the way, if you have a student at home, have them check out this website, which is seeking entries from students and teachers on global warming. It is a little something to start the creative juice going...

Extrazoom Marn-Yee Lee
Contributing Editor
AskPatty.com

Marn-Yee Lee is pursuing an MBA in Sustainability at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. After spending a decade in I.T. and on Wall Street, she is now pursuing her passion for the environment. She sees business as a partner for creating innovative solutions to pressing environmental issues. In her spare time, she writes a blog to inspire others to consider the impact of their daily lives on the environment at busythinking.blogspot.com.

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