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Environmental companies and vehicles go to school

Students ask John Welsh questions.

When local business people and successful entrepreneurs partner with our schools to enhance the education of our young people, they make the lessons more meaningful for the students. And when the education centers on improving our environment, there’s a good chance the students will be inspired to work on solutions that benefit the whole planet.

Teacher Bill Licopoli is at far left.

Central Bucks West’s Environmental Science teacher Bill Licopoli hosted a diverse line-up of speakers on Wednesday, November 28, to give his students glimpses into the business of dealing with waste and a chance to view two alternatives to traditional gasoline-powered transportation.

Sharon Haas, Environmental Specialist with the Bureau of Inspection & Maintenance, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection – and a local resident – has helped Licopoli to assemble competent presenters in previous years, so she rose to the occasion again.

Presenters are, from left, Peter Russo of Peter F. Russo Oilfields Services, Bruce Hembrick of Fred Beans Chevrolet, Judith M. Dallas of Peter F. Russo Oilfields Services, Nathan LeSuer and Dieter M. Scheel of Sustainable Waste Solutions. Not shown: John Welsh of Lower Merion School District.

This year’s speakers included Fred Beans Chevrolet Volt electric car expert Bruce Hembrick, Lower Merion School District’s compressed natural gas bus driver-instructor John Welsh, Peter F. Russo Oilfields Services’ Peter Russo and Judith M. Dallas, and Sustainable Waste Solutions’ Dieter M. Scheel and Nathan LeSuer.

They presented the students with challenging and thought-provoking information on the Chevrolet Volt electric plug-in car with a range-extending gasoline engine, the advantages of a compressed natural gas school bus, cleaning up oil contamination in Third-World countries, and managing waste without using landfills.


Kolby Lykon, 16, of Plumstead Township, would love to just drive off in this Volt. Her passenger is Jessica Boulton, 17, of Chalfont.

Chevrolet Volt looks less like an experiment
For those who experience “range anxiety” at the thought of operating a plug-in electric-powered vehicle, the Chevy Volt is a perfect choice: ecologically sound with its battery power, it also has a gasoline-powered engine that activates when the battery is depleted so drivers can continue to travel to their destination. The EPA estimates that the Volt runs 379 miles on a full charge and a full tank – and as more charging stations are made available around the country, that gas engine will become just a reassuring “extra.”

Bruce Hembrick showed students the new Volt and explained key features that make it a fun-to-drive car as well as an environmental champ. Regenerative braking helps recharge the battery while driving. Low-rolling-resistance tires and the lightest Bose stereo system available are among those items that make the Volt more efficient. The vehicle can be charged overnight from a home’s 220-v line – the same line that powers an electric dryer.

The wheels on the bus use CNG
Run two school buses next to each other in a parking lot, one using compressed natural gas and the other using regular diesel fuel, and it won’t take you but a minute to see, smell, taste and feel the difference.

“Regular diesel engines are a current health issue, emitting known carcinogens,” says John Welsh, who drives the CNG buses and teaches bus drivers for the Lower Merion School District. He brought the bus to the Doylestown school for the program.

But the CNG engine is a closed system, so there is no loss from spillage or evaporation. If it does spill, it’s lighter than air and disperses quickly. It’s more environmentally clean and safer than gasoline or diesel fuel, with a narrower range of flammability and a higher auto-ignition temperature. It contains no lead or benzene and CNG engines have lower maintenance costs. About the only drawback is that CNG requires much more storage space in the vehicle, so you’ll see CNG tanks atop some vehicles or underneath others.


John Welsh, Lower Merion School District’s driver-instructor, shows the students how the compressed natural gas – CNG – school bus operates cleaner and safer.

Oilfields’ services clean up the world
Peter Russo described the process for recovering crude oil from sludge that builds up in oil tanks at refineries and contaminates the environment in sludge pools most common to the Third World. His company uses exposure to high heat and chemicals to liquefy the sludge, which is then spun in a centrifuge to separate the hydrocarbons from the soil and other debris. The aim is to recover 90 percent of the crude oil.

Russo’s company also does clean-up from indiscriminate dumping, mostly in third-world countries where the infrastructure and government policies don’t exist to prevent it. Because hydrocarbons in the air, soil and drinking water are known to major health and environmental issues, clean up is critical. However, remediation is costly and difficult. He says new technologies, such as burning garbage to create energy, are exciting and promising.

John Welsh shows where the CNG bus is fueled.

“The challenge for this technology in the Third World,” says Russo, “is the lack of infrastructure, power-sharing agreements, enforcement of regulations – and with people’s inability to pay for the power (that is created).”

Landfill-free waste management creates energy
Dieter Scheel operates the only landfill-free trash and recycling company in United States.

“Everything we pick up from our customers is re-used or recycled,” he says. “Companies like ours are on the cutting edge of sustainability. We have no use for landfills.”

SWS’s “electricity from waste” process uses direct combustion in its plants to burn away pollutants and use the resulting heat to create electricity. The process is economically and environmentally sustainable.

Sitting in the Volt are CB West Environmental students Cole Malinauskas, 17, Chalfont, in the driver’s seat and his passenger, Mike Miller, 17, of Chalfont.

“Landfills produce methane (as the garbage slowly breaks down), probably one of the worst of the greenhouse gases,” says Scheel. Physical and chemical “scrubbers” that treat the effluent ensure that no pollutants escape into the atmosphere. In fact, the plants are “zero discharge” – all liquid that falls on the site, stays there.

SWS is a single-stream recycler, taking far more items than our residential haulers do, and it manages specialty recycling as well. Even the ash from the plant’s fireball is recycled and used as the daily cover at landfills that is required by law. The ash replaces more efficiently and effectively the topsoil that is standard practice.

Bruce Hembrick points out the Volt's features.