Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Energy Club is honored

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The National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project recognized the MVironment Club of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School at an awards ceremony on June 26. The school was selected Massachusetts Senior School of the Year and National Level Top Outstanding Energy Engineering and Design Project, based on the club’s energy education project, “Phragmites Pellets: Engineering Biomass.”

The MVironment Club was also chosen to receive a Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education, which was presented by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Secretary Matthew Beaton.

Teacher Natalie Munn, who is an advisor to the Club, said in a press release, “This year, the MVironment Club wanted to focus on the use of biomass as a fuel source and processing biomass as a way to help reduce waste locally.”

The club worked with the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, which is exploring the removal of phragmites from ponds as a method of nitrogen reduction, and with local greenhouse Thimble Farm,which is interested in using the waste phragmites if the phragmites can be made into biomass pellets and burned in a pellet stove for heat.

To get the project started, the club met with community partners to explore the possible need for large-scale phragmites removal and the logistics of using waste phragmites as a biomass fuel resource. They worked with HereLab, and discussed creating a sensor system to monitor pond health wirelessly. At Thimble Farm, where the phragmites was stored and harvested, they explored processing options for grinding phragmites for pellet production. A representative from a company called World Stove talked to the group about the use for the pellets, and club members learned about a pyrolysis stove, which was an alternative to a traditional pellet stove.

The next step was to create the pellet molds, experiment with different recipes for the pellets, test the pellet heat output, and then create procedures for making the pellets. The students designed the 3D printed molds, and created a system for making the pellets.

The group also wanted to engage and educate fellow high school students on biomass as a renewable energy source. They created an outreach video that documented the various process steps, and had about 75 students make and test pellets.

Ms. Munn said, “By removing phragmites from our ponds and using it as a fuel source, the club promoted the protection of our pond ecosystems while creating a clean and renewable source of fuel. Those who participated were educated on the impacts of invasive phragmites as well as learning about one of the ways to reduce nitrogen in our ponds and biomass waste in our community.”

NEED described the club’s work as “an outstanding energy education project,” and the project is posted on its website. Co-advisors for the project were Natalie Munn and Louis Hall.

This is the fifth year in a row that the club has been recognized for its work.