Growing up in rural Missouri, Jamielee Buenemann learned firsthand that many small-town residents are wary of renewable energy.
“People think it is either too expensive or too complex,” she says.
As a high school junior, Buenemann set a goal to demystify renewable energy and make it a reality for the average citizen. She also made this project the focus of her Girl Scout Gold Award.
The Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, challenges young women to change the world. When they’re done, they tell their story and share their results.
“You have a lot of potential to make an impact if you are willing to put in the dedication and learn some new tasks,” she says.
Buenemann, a freshman in engineering, built a residential-scale wind turbine – almost entirely out of recycled materials from her home – to promote new sources of energy. And her work earned her national acclaim.
This past August, Buenemann was named one of 10 National Young Women of Distinction, Girl Scout’s highest honor. Winning projects demonstrated extraordinary leadership and had measurable impact.
“At such a young age, these girls are creating positive change in their communities, identifying local solutions that relate to global issues and taking sustainable action to make a difference in the world,” says Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “We are proud to recognize the contributions and achievements of these exceptional girls and cannot wait to see how they continue to inspire, influence, and innovate as the leaders and social entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”
In building her wind turbine, Buenemann hoped to show that renewable energy can be inexpensive as well as developed without a lot of complex machinery. She used reclaimed materials like Plexiglas and PVC pipe.
“Using repurposed materials not only reduces the cost, it also encourages recycling,” she says.
Buenemann set up the wind turbine in her back yard and measured energy output using different types of materials for the blades – aluminum sheeting, PVC pipe and Plexiglas. She found that each material had its advantages.
“I tried Plexiglas because it can be commonly found in scrap materials, but it also is extremely light,” Buenemann says. “That makes it great for low-wind areas, like Missouri. Plexiglas blades start turning at a much lower wind speed and continue turning after the wind dies down. It wasn’t as durable, though.
“The aluminum blades were least efficient, probably due to the larger mass of the blades,” she says. “They had a high durability, though, and would be great in an area with a lot of strong conflicting winds.”
PVC pipe worked the best. She says it was still lightweight yet durable enough to withstand higher wind speeds without degrading.
“The PVC pipe blades were the easiest to make,” Buenemann says. “You already have the round shape for the blades – and they worked very well over a wide range of conditions. They’re lighter than the aluminum blades, but they have higher durability.”
Buenemann completed the project at the start of her senior year in high school and gave presentations to other Girl Scouts and to the fourth grade classes in her hometown of Washington, Missouri.
Buenemann learned she would receive national Girl Scout honors when she was at the National Youth Science Camp, a month-long science education program that combines academic challenges and hands-on science projects with outdoor adventure. Two students from each state are chosen to attend.
“I love exploration,” Buenemann says. “Science is a great area that can have a huge impact on our world. It made for one amazing summer.”
Story by Mary Helen Stoltz
Photos contributed by Girl Scouts of the USA