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National Sustainable Design Expo Highlights Student Work

More than 350 students from 21 colleges and universities were on the National Mall in Washington D.C. this week to compete for the Environmental Protection Agency's second annual 'People, Prosperity, Planet' award. They have novel designs for environmentally friendly buildings; innovative alternative fuel technologies; and rainwater collection techniques.

A group of banjo-playing "greenies" from Appalachian State University was one of the six winning entries for the "People, Prosperity, Planet", or "P3" award. The winners have the option to take up to $75,000 in grant money to further develop their design and move it to the marketplace.

Their project was called "Closing the Biodiesel Loop." They created a sustainable education facility to promote and demonstrate small-scale biodiesel processing. Their 1971 Mercedes van was fueled by biodiesel made from used cooking oil donated by restaurants. To showcase their work, they drove the van nearly seven hours to Washington, D.C.

Student Justin Stiles gives his impressions. "It will add a great amount of mileage that you can put on an engine by running on biodiesel, it's quieter, which is nice; a lot of people think diesels are real loud, and they're real knocky [knock a lot] and things like that. But it really takes a lot of that [the knocking] out of it, and it smells wonderful."

Another winning team from Lafayette College took its sustainability ideas to Central America. The group designed a water filtration system for a small village in Honduras that had no clean drinking water.

Another student, Greg Roscoe, talks about the importance of clean water. "Without clean drinking water there is a whole range of water borne illness ... bacteria, everything in the water. If you don't have access to clean drinking water and you're exposed to all these health issues, then you can't really move on. You can't really expand the village."

Students from Duke University, who were not among the winners this year, designed an entire green dormitory.

The so-called 'smarthouse' will house 10 students who will design and build environmentally sound systems, including using renewable or recycled components; and reusing grey water -- that is, water that is not completely clean but which does not need purification. They also will work on alternative energy generation, through systems like a solar one that includes a tracker to maximize efficient use of sun power..

Each of the participants received a $10,000 grant last fall to develop their designs, come to the expo, and showcase them. George Gray works for the office of Research and Development at the Environmental Protection Agency.

"There are ideas here that people can put into place in their own homes, in their own lives, today," said Gray. "There are little steps that each of us can take to really make a difference and these students are identifying them, proving them and in some cases, commercializing them."

But Justin Stiles is happy just to have made a local impact. "In the spring of next year, a year from now, there's going to be a class being taught on making biodiesel, directly related to what we have done here, so we've changed the curriculum of our school just by doing what we've done here, so that's pretty top notch I think."

In addition to student projects, government, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations exhibited their sustainable technologies -- all intended to preserve natural resources for future generations.