Illinois tween Jonny Cohen was just twelve years old when he came up with a revolutionary idea that would make clunky yellow school buses more energy efficient - Helping not only school districts save money, but also, the environment. Now five years later, the senior at Highland Park High School is finally seeing his dream realized.
It all began in 2008 when Jonny, just fresh off a science summer camp at Northwestern University, was looking for something to apply his newly found knowledge of aerodynamics to, and found the perfect candidate - His school bus. Known for giving an average of just 7 mpg compared to a private car that can average about 20 mpg, these vehicles were definitely due for a makeover.
After thinking about it some, Jonny came up with the idea of attaching a Plexiglas shield to the front of the vehicle, which would help redirect airflow and thus make the bus more aerodynamic. This in turn, would reduce drag and help the bus become more energy efficient - At least, in theory.
While his science teachers loved the idea, the young boy still needed to build a prototype and test to see if it really worked. Thanks to his older sister Azza, he managed to obtain a $1,000 USD grant from Youth Venture, an organization that helps young social activists make their ideas a reality.
Jonny used the money to build a mini-prototype of the first 'GreenShields' and put it to test by attaching it to a mini toy school bus and dragging it inside a makeshift wind tunnel that he set-up in his garage. Sure enough, the idea had merit and the young boy knew it was time to step it up and create a life-sized version that could be put to test on a real bus.
In 2010, his sister and he decided to apply for a $25,000 USD Pepsi Refresh Grant, an initiative set up by the soda manufacturer to fund new radical ideas. With support from his community who helped vote Jonny's idea to the top 5 of the 721 hopefuls, the young boy was successful in winning the grant and GreenShields was on its way.
While Jonny and his team of novice engineers were able to build the initial prototypes, they soon realized that they needed some expert help to really get going. In 2011, the young team began to send out feelers to the local Universities to see if they could interest some experts to help them build and test the product. Not surprisingly, it was Northwestern University's Stacy Benjamin - the same teacher that had inspired him to start thinking about the project - that volunteered. She along with two of her engineering students Tim Healy and Matt Filik worked through the summer to finally help realize the dream Jonny has been harboring, since he was 12-years old.
The fourth generation GreenShields looks radically different from Jonny's original idea. instead of a streamlined transparent Plexiglas that covers the windshield of the bus, it is a sleek, ski-jump shaped hat that gets installed on the roof of the bus. This design provides the same benefits but costs less to manufacture and install.
In tests done on virtual and real roads the add-on shield that weighs 8 lbs and costs just $200 USD, has helped increase the gas mileage of school buses by 10-20%. The only thing that is keeping them away from your local school bus is permits from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which hopefully should be granted any day now.
We wonder if this ingenious device would help other buses and even cars become more fuel-efficient? To read more about this amazing product and its young team go to: greenshieldsproject.com.
Resources: greenshieldsproject.com, takepart.com