7th graders go after methane, carbon with invention
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · April 26, 2013

A quartet of young scientists wanted to do something to “solve a human problem related to climate change” and finished by addressing two.

Seventh graders Katie Edge, Bridgett Buol, McKenna Walsh and Annika Olson created a design for a wind-powered compost turner. The primary aim of the device keeps food waste out of landfills, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and the production of methane gases. But by powering it with wind, it also reduces dependence on carbon-based fuels.

Edge said that when food waste sits in a landfill, it builds up gases that are harmful to the environment. The compost turner keeps the food rotating, allowing oxygen in to help it decompose before putting it into a garden.

“Regular fertilizer is not so natural,” Walsh said. “We create our own fertilizer with more natural resources.”

The team plans to enter their invention in the Google Science Fair 2013 Competition, which looks for ideas from children ages 13 to 18.

“There were some really cool ideas from last year,” Edge said.

West Branch Middle School science teacher Brad McClosky said the team worked with New Pioneer’s Scott Koepke, who estimated that 70 percent of landfill garbage could be redirected and used for fertilizer.

Walsh said the team’s device is simple, meaning that homeowners and farmers could build one. But it took some work to figure out a good design, they said, like using different materials and shapes for the windmill blade design.

“We don’t want (the food waste) to sit on the ground” like it would in a landfill, Buol said.

Their machine runs a belt from the windmill to turn a container that keeps the food waste tumbling. They said the container would be filled and emptied from one of the flat sides.

“This is a chance to make a change,” Walsh said.

The grand prize in the Google Science Fair includes a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions and $50,000 in scholarship funding.

Walsh said the pupils could also earn grants for the school.

“It’s actually a pretty big deal,” Walsh said.

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