Benish said if his company can run a bus for less than what a school is currently paying, "we pass on savings to them."
Pepsi gives it some fizz
The GreenShields Project really took off in 2010 when the team won a $25,000 award through the Pepsi Refresh Project. Last month, the GreenShields team picked up more support with the $5,000 audience choice award from the Ashoka Youth Venture and Consumer Bankers Association Foundation's "Banking on Youth" program.
GreenShields has also been featured on "Good Morning America," the White House blog and an MTV commercial. Last year, Jonny was named one of Forbes magazine's top 30 under 30 in the energy division.
But after nearly five years of testing and waves of publicity, making the idea a reality still has its challenges.
"Frankly, it's difficult. It's really hard to keep the momentum going," said Azza, who recently returned from spending a year in India.
"The way we keep it going is by sending our name out there, we keep pitching to the media, keep emailing our senators and calling the EPA," she said. "Basically, you never can stop, because if we stop then nobody will listen to us."
Government approval from EPA or the Department of Transportation, but preferably both, is the biggest remaining barrier to getting GreenShields on everyday buses. The patent pending on the GreenShield expires in February, and the group is hoping to see some legislative action before then.
Once the product is approved, Benish said he's committed to testing it and rolling it out across his fleet if the fuel savings prove accurate. A handmade GreenShield will cost him $200, but if 1,000 or more units are ordered, plastics manufacturers will make a mold and the price will drop to $30. Cook-Illinois runs 2,300 school buses daily.
Jonny returned to Illinois last week after completing an intensive summer program at Texas Tech University, where he worked on making cleaner transportation fuels. Eventually, he wants to be a mechanical engineer and use that knowledge to build a business. But for now, he and Azza are revving up GreenShields.
"It's never really over until all school buses become super-efficient," Jonny said. "So I think until then, there's always work to be done."
But the driving force behind GreenShields is also greater than making a product for school buses.
"It's also about inspiring other kids so that they can make change, because you can't have change if you keep thinking other people are going to do it," Jonny said. "I'm inspired to be a change-maker so that hopefully more people can be change-makers, too, so that we can have a better world."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500