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By Don Pace

For the last several years, students at Memorial Middle School have become tuned in to a variety of earth-friendly ways of growing food and harnessing energy.

Using the Agricultural Science Center as a learning tool, kids have built wind turbines, studied solar power and methods of composting, and used their greenhouse for experiments.

Last week, students got a close-up look at an old school bus that had been converted to run on vegetable oil and has been making stops at schools across the country. Dubbed the BioTour, four young environmentalists have hit the road addressing issues of climate change and the environment.

Adam Greenberg said the nonprofit educational BioTour receives an incredible reaction wherever it goes.

“The bus runs on waste vegetable oil, which is recycled from restaurants, and we travel the country advocating for renewable energy, sustainable living and more so opening up the discussion for the importance of thinking where our energy comes from,” said Greenberg, a BioTour representative. “People are so excited about this idea — they’re excited because they’re actually seeing people getting out there and doing something that isn’t that hard to do. It’s not that difficult to convert a diesel engine to run on waste vegetable oil. It’s pretty straight forward.”

Greenberg said restaurants typically have to pay to have their vegetable oil removed, so they are thrilled to give it to BioTour. However, he said restaurants are now realizing that there’s a lot of power one can actually generate from vegetable oil.

“More and more frequently, restaurants have contracts and are getting paid, which is good in the long term because it means people are recognizing the benefits of using alternative sources of energy. In the short term, it makes it harder for us to find fuel, but generally it’s a good thing,” Greenberg said.

Agricultural Science Center director Peter Skelton said, “It fits really well with our programming because our overarching theme is to teach about sustainability. We want the kids to understand the concepts of maintaining ecosystems, agricultural systems and learning about renewable systems. The students are getting a great opportunity to learn about biofuels, and that’s part of our curriculum.”

New Mexico State University 4-H STEM specialist Shirley Marlow has been developing the renewable energy curriculum to introduce to the students and discussing alternative energies. She heard about the tour and was able to bring the bio-bus to Las Vegas.

“This group of kids that are traveling all over seemed to fit right in, and they are a little bit closer in age to the students, so perhaps they will make a bigger impact than just adults talking to them,” Marlow said.

Eighth-graders Vic Newman and Justin Valdez were impressed at the simplicity of converting the bus engine to run on alternative fuels and help the environment at the same time.

“It’s cool,” Valdez said.