Every weekday in the United States, nearly 480,000 buses transport more than 26 million children to and from school. Sharing transportation helps protect the environment by limiting carbon dioxide emissions. However, some old school buses can create a lot of pollution. Is there a way to make them more “green?”
That is the question Jonny Cohen asked himself one afternoon as he was walking home from school. Noticing the clunky body of a school bus, Cohen, then 11, wondered if he could create a more streamlined bus.
Cohen came up with the idea of attaching shields to the fronts of buses to redirect airflow. To test his idea, he launched GreenShields, a project to install plastic panels on buses to make them more aerodynamic and energy efficient.
“The focus of GreenShields is to save gas for schools so they have more money for education and to help decrease pollution by using gas more efficiently,” said Cohen.
With the help of his older sister Azza and his friends, Cohen won a $1,000 Youth Venture grant from Ashoka — a global organization that supports social entrepreneurs. Cohen’s team used the funds to build a wind tunnel for testing prototypes. In 2010, the team refined the concept and won a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant.
Impressed by GreenShields’ success, John Benish, a bus company owner in Illinois, donated a school bus to the team, and recruited a group of Northwestern University engineering students to help them refine the project.
During a recent test run in Joliet, Illinois, the shield generated a 28 percent reduction in fuel consumption. According to some estimates, that reduction could save U.S. schools more than $600 million a year.
This year, Cohen will represent Illinois in the 2012 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. This national program recognizes outstanding acts of youth volunteerism.
“My goal is to give this technology to every school district in the United States,” says Cohen, “but I also hope to inspire kids that any idea they have can become something if they try.”