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‘BioBus’ hits the road to promote alternative energy and sustainability

Southeastern Regional Vo-Tech High School has a new bus with cabinets made from scraps, floors made from old tires, and a grey water filtration system.

George Rizer for the Boston Globe

Southeastern Regional Vo-Tech High School has a new bus with cabinets made from scraps, floors made from old tires, and a grey water filtration system.

EASTON — Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School’s BioBus is painted green, has countertops made from recycled paper, floors made from old tires, and gray water. And that’s just the way they want it.

The extensively refitted vehicle, based on the school’s campus in south Easton, is a traveling classroom designed to educate people about alternative energy and sustainability, said environmental technology teacher Tabitha Hobbs.

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“It’s quality education on numerous levels,” she said. “It educates our students on clean energy and sustainability, but then it also is a way to get out into the community and educate the community.”

Although the BioBus has been on display at Southeastern open houses and various other school events since 2011, it was not completed with its current components until the Green Schools Summit for Massachusetts students and educators, which Southeastern hosted on April 11, according to Hobbs.

And only recently did the BioBus embark on its first off-campus venture. On Oct. 25, Hobbs and her students brought the bus to an environmental conference in New Bedford called “Connecting for Change.”

Hobbs said the New Bedford conference was a “tour-based event,” where her environmental technology students engaged in interactions with the public about the components of the bus, such as the gray-water filtration system, how they were built, and the goals of the bus.

The BioBus’s first school visit, on Nov. 4 to Plouffe Academy, a middle school in Brockton, was more of an educational program, she explained.

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“Each class that we worked with spent some time in the classroom doing activities on renewable and nonrenewable energy sources,” said Hobbs, “and then on the bus my students . . . walked them through the components and how Southeastern students finished the bus, and also got the [Plouffe Academy] students to engage in a conversation about how they use energy, and how they could conserve energy.”

Seniors Yasmeen Rahman, Adam Winsor, and Andrew Taylor at the back of he bus.

George Rizer for the Boston Globe

Seniors Yasmeen Rahman, Adam Winsor, and Andrew Taylor at the back of he bus.

Hobbs has been teaching at Southeastern since 2007 and has coordinated the BioBus project for the past four years. She said the idea for the moving exhibit came about six years ago when Southeastern had a number of sustainability and clean-energy initiatives starting up and had a school bus that was being retired.

“We thought this would be a great way to get the word out about these initiatives and educate people about these issues and their solutions,” said Hobbs, who is also the clean-energy grant coordinator at Southeastern.

Much of the funding for the BioBus came from Massachusetts Clean Energy Center grants, according to Hobbs. The grants provided funds to buy equipment, such as solar panels for the bus and a biodiesel filtration system, and to develop a curriculum around clean energy and clean-energy technologies.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is a publicly funded nongovernmental agency created through the Massachusetts Green Jobs Act of 2008, which gets funding from utility bill surcharges, according to the center’s spokeswoman, Catherine Williams.

Hobbs said the BioBus has been a collaborative effort among shops across the entire Southeastern campus.

Electrical shop students hooked up solar panels on the roof of the bus that charge a battery bank that powers everything on the bus. Environmental technology students installed rubber flooring made from recycled tires, designed window garden boxes made from recycled PVC piping, and designed a gray-water filtration system that recycles used sink water for irrigation of plants. Plumbing shop students installed the filtration system, along with a sink and spigot. Networking students installed a television set on the bus for video presentations. Cabinetmaking shop students installed countertops made of recycled paper called “Paper Stone.” Metal fabrication shop students built the racking system for the solar panels, and also the new racking system for the seats on the bus. Design and visual communication students designed the logo. And collision repair shop students painted the logo on the side of the bus.

The BioBus is powered by standard diesel fuel, said Hobbs, but she hopes to begin using more energy-efficient biodiesel, a mix of diesel fuel and recycled vegetable oil, which can be produced by the school’s biodiesel filtration system, in the near future.

She said she’s very proud of the way the students and faculty have worked together on their common vision.

Emma Coutu showed off a radish grown outside the bus on window planters.

George Rizer for the Boston Globe

Emma Coutu showed off a radish grown outside the bus on window planters.

“Over the years we have worked with over 10 teachers from various programs and probably 100 or so students have been involved in the construction,” said Hobbs, “and hopefully hundreds, if not thousands more, will have an opportunity to learn on the BioBus.”

Senior Yasmeen Rahman is interested in environmental education and enjoys giving presentations on the bus to younger students.

She said she especially likes the Kill-A-Watt meter, a display that compares theamounts of energy used by older, less energy-efficient incandescent light bulbs and newer, more efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.

“I can physically unscrew [the light bulbs] and show the numbers on the Kill-A-Watt meter,” said Rahman. “It’s a way to teach people that even little things can make a difference.”

The bus also uses LED (light-emitting diode) lighting, another type of energy-efficient lighting, which was installed by electrical shop students.

Senior Andrew Taylor rebuilt an old computer for the bus, using recycled components. “I like working with computers,” he said, “and the BioBus needed it.”

Taylor said he also has an interest in meteorology and plans on building a weather station for the bus.

Emma Coutu, also a senior, said she believes the BioBus is important “because it’s a classroom and an energy saver.”

“We can reach kids and teach them they can change something,” she said. You can get out to the schools, and get to the younger people. You can teach them about sustainability and what we’re all about.”

Hobbs defined sustainability as living in a way that can be continued indefinitely.

“So we refer to it mainly as working towards sustainability,” she said, “which requires consideration of the triple bottom line” of being socially sustainable, economically sustainable, and environmentally sustainable. “In order for something to be sustainable, it needs to benefit people, profits, and the planet.”

Asked why he felt the BioBus was important, senior Adam Winsor echoed the educational and environmental sustainability theme.

“We’re making a difference,” said Winsor. That’s really what I want to do. It is important to teach people, younger kids, actually, about the awareness of environmental impact, climate change, and how we can fix the environment and make it better and make a better world. It’s a great way to show that we can have a better, sustainable future.”

Don Lyman can be reached at donlyman@ix.netcom.com.

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