Town: Oak Bluffs
The MVironment Club is student driven organization, comprised of roughly twenty students, at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School that focuses on environmentally related projects and activities. This fall they began an innovative engineering project that worked to develop a process that mitigates nitrogen runoff in local ponds through removing a nitrogen up-taking invasive plant species and converting it’s biomass into burnable pellets to heat a local farm’s greenhouse (Thimble Farm). This project connected students with local organizations, namely the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group (a local shellfish hatchery that spawns shellfish for Island towns)and Thimble Farm (a non-profit, educational, community-farm) and allowed them to collaborate with scientists and farmers to meet their goals. During this project students met with local biologists, farmers and engineers to learnabout the impact of invasive species and nitrogen on their local ponds and estuaries. They found a sense of agency that local stewardship began with them and that they had the ability to make an impact on not only the environment but also to create an opportunity to share this information with other communities that have similar aquatic issues.
In order to share information on this topic to their community, the MVironment club, in conjunction with the MVSG, hosted Nathaniel Hawthorn, from World Stove, to do a talk on pellet fuel pyrolysis stoves and the value of getting heat as well as the resulting biochar. The talk was attended by both students and community members and provided an opportunity for the community to learn about the importance of alternative fuels, such as the biomass bricks that students aimed to develop. The Phragmites Bio-mass Pellet Project was funded through the generosity and interest of community members and will continue through the partnership between the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and Thimble Farm. This project was recently chosen as State Finalist for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Competition and was an effective study of the feasibility and efficacy of developing a biomass-based wood pellet creating procedure.
The purpose of this project was for students to create a reproducible procedure that would permit their community and others to aid in the removal of invasive species while creating usable biomass, in the form of pellets, to heat buildings. Students worked with Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group to process the harvested phragmite from ponds and then developed, through inquiry based trial and error lab procedures, a way to grind the phragmite into a form that could then be compressed into a pellet. Furthermore, that pellet could then be burned in a pellet stove, creating heat for a building. This project found ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while simultaneously mitigating issues with invasive species and nitrogen runoff in ponds. During all phases of the project students documented their experience through digital filming and photography as well as in creating a document that showed the sequencing of preparation of the phragmite. Students then packaged what they had found into short films that could be used as an educational tool and distributed to interested parties. Procedure Initially, the phragmite plant was removed from the water, along with the nitrogen that was taken up by the plantn during its growth. After removal from the water the plants were dried out at Thimble Farms in their greenhouse and then processed by a wood chipper so that students could begin the fine processing protocol to turn the final product into a biomass pellet. Eventually those pellets would be used in a pellet stove to heat the Thimble Farm greenhouse during the cold months. One obstacle in the project was that Phragmite lacks lignin to hold it together in pellet form, so shredded phragmite needed to be combined with an additive (recycled cardboard and recycled saw-dust from their school’s building-trades program), and the resulting pellets needed to be evaluated. So students developed a methodology for processing the pellets, including designing a method to shred the phragmite,combining it with an additive to help hold it together, and shaping it by making and using molds. Students made the molds on computer by generating 30 models and printed them on a 30 printer. They created a press and mold system that could withstand pressing the phragmite and resulted in viable wood burning pellets. Furthermore, their project resulted in supporting the monitored removal of nitrogen from their local ponds, and made use of the waste generated as part of the removal process by developing a process for making useful phragmite pellet fuel that could be burned for heat by a local farm’s greenhouse.