Several science-savvy members of North Thurston High School’s Class of 2009 shared this week their somewhat optimistic vision of the planet’s energy future with a graying, science-challenged member of North Thurston’s Class of 1966 — me.
I came away with my skeptical world view somewhat softened, encouraged that their generation will work hard to clean up the mess that past generations, including my baby boomer mates, have made here on Earth.
The seven seniors I conversed with graduated Saturday, but not before they took the time after one of their last school days of the year to describe three projects they entered in Washington State University’s “Imagine Tomorrow” energy competition, which took place May 29-31.
The statewide competition for high school students drew 92 teams from 37 schools, including three teams from North Thurston High School, competing for $100,000 in prize money. No other high school in South Sound entered the competition.
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A five-student team spearheaded by Alex Dunsmoor took second place in the technology division with a project that explored the cutting edge world of (gulp) Thermochemical Hydrogen Production.
For their efforts, which involved a garage experiment that combined a mechanical engine with a chemical reaction using sulphur dioxide and iodine to produce hydrogen, the team earned $3,000 to share and another $3,000 to support school Science Club activities.
Dunsmoor spent about 20 minutes explaining the project to me and I didn’t understand much of what he had to say. When I was at North Thurston, I stumbled through my science classes. Even the brightest science minds in my class were not thinking about ways to combat global warming through advances in hydrogen energy production. Heck, none of us had ever even heard of global warming.
But I did understand Dunsmoor’s basic premise that renewable energy resources such as wind and solar alone won’t be enough to meet future energy needs of a world that will rely less and less on fossil fuel.
“We have the technology right now to generate energy from hydrogen,” said Dunsmoor, who is headed to Washington State University to pursue either a mechanical engineering or microbiology major.
A second North Thurston team consisting of Bernard Viray, Loc Hua and Daniel Mast researched and conceptualized a floating city they called “Eden Prime.” Sea-level rise that is expected to displace millions of people from their low-lying coastal communities, many in impoverished areas of the world, was the driver behind their project, Hua said.
“People don’t grow gills and flippers overnight so we’re going to need to find a way to provide them with shelter, energy, food and water,” Hua said.
Eden Prime won the “Global Impact Award” in the competition, but unfortunately, no money was attached to that award.
Eden Prime would consist of two multi-story domes one mile long and one-half mile wide, reminiscent of the geodesic domes designed by one of the world’s best known futurists, Buckminster Fuller.
The self-sustaining, floating city would be home to about 20,000 people. Wind, solar and ocean thermal power would be the sources of energy. A desalination plant would provide fresh water and food would be grown at the bottom of the domes in a system called “aquaponics.”
Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics so that effluent generated by the aquatic critters raised for food, for example, fish, is used to nourish vegetables grown in water.
The floating cities would have a school system, a system of governance and enough entertainment options to keep people from going stir crazy, suggested Viray.
In other words, Eden Prime would be a heckuva lot more civilized than the life depicted in “Waterworld,” the 1995 sci-fi thriller set in a future when the polar ice caps have melted and most of the planet is underwater.
None of the students who worked on Eden Prime has seen “Waterworld.”
The third team of NTHS students consisting of Thomas Larson, Sam Brazil, Michael Arguelles and Codi Fiman drafted a piece of legislation they called the Greenstead Act. Patterned after the Homestead Act of 1862, it would create a national program to renovate energy-inefficient homes and commercial buildings through low-or-no-interest loans, coupled with a major public outreach and education campaign to take the mystery out of investing in energy conservation.
“The ultimate goal of this program is to make energy efficiency available and nonthreatening to anyone residing in the United States,” according to a memorial the team would like the state Legislature to approve and send to President Barack Obama and Congress.
I asked all the students their thoughts about the threats of climate change and the ability of their generation to lessen those threats.
Viray summed it up best in the context of the Imagine Tomorrow competition:
“There’s some fear in knowing what might happen, but, at the same time, it’s fun trying to think of new ways to adapt to climate change.”
Best wishes to the North Thurston High School Class of 2009. You’ve got your work cut out for you.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444