- By Tom Weaver
Childhood friends, college roommates, collaborative thinkers, and one day soon, perhaps, business partners—Charlotte, Vermont, natives Tad Cooke and Erick Crockenberg are a pair of like-minded seniors who have made the most of their UVM years.
Cooke and Crockenberg, who also share a self-designed major—ecological and food energy systems—spent a good chunk of the past year designing and building a greenhouse heating system that has promise for boosting the eco and economic sustainability of Vermont farms. Elevator pitch: The heat from decomposing manure and stall bedding, ever-abundant on farms, is captured and funneled back into a greenhouse, extending the growing season in chilly Vermont. They put their idea into action with a trial system, which will be put to the test this winter, at UVM’s Horticulture Research Center Ecological design pioneer and UVM professor emeritus John Todd was a key inspiration for the Vermont students and their work on this project. Funding and support for their endeavor comes from UVM’s Clean Energy Fund, a student-led initiative that backs worthy projects advancing renewable energy research, education, and infrastructure on campus.
Cooke and Crockenberg applied similar thinking to a proposal for the future of Burlington’s derelict Moran power plant on the waterfront. What’s next for the brick hulk has been under debate in the city for decades. The student duo sees a place to showcase renewable energy and agricultural innovation. Their proposal would harness waste from potential businesses in the structure (grains from a brewer, food waste from eateries, for example) and cycle it back into heat and energy via an anaerobic digester. Their system rose to the top among recent Moran proposals, though many hurdles remain before moving forward on such a plan.
In 2012, Cooke was named a Udall Scholar, the most prestigious undergraduate award in the country for students pursuing careers focused on environmental issues. A year later, Crockenberg earned an honorable mention in the same competition.
While they’ve already made a mark nationally, there is work ahead at home during senior year for the pair of Vermonters. “What’s most exciting about Tad and Erick is their enthusiasm,” says Mieko Ozeki, manager of the Clean Energy Fund in UVM’s Office of Sustainability. “And they’ve really be able to get other students excited about this project.”