When a Boca Raton, Fla., high school student found out her Ethiopian pen pal lived without electricity and running water, she came up with a way to convert the energy produced by ocean currents into electricity.
The News & Record reported that Hannah Herbst presented her prototype, BEACON (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries Through Ocean Energy), at the annual White House Science Fair, the sixth and final such event of President Barack Obama’s administration.
BEACON uses what’s known as a Pelton wheel system — a water turbine — connected to an AC generator to convert the energy produced by ocean currents into electricity. If scaled up, BEACON could power a desalinization pump or a 12-volt battery. For now, Hannah is focused on making many, smaller-scale units, according to the News & Record.
Unlike existing turbines that are often huge, expensive and operate on the ocean floor, Hannah’s model is cheap and floatable, so anybody can use it. She made one iteration out of recyclable materials for only $12.
Just 15 and a student at Florida Atlantic University High School, Hannah has come a long way since her initial idea almost three years ago. After presenting her project at county and state science fairs, she entered and won Discovery Education and 3M’s Young Scientists Challenge, becoming “America’s top young scientist” last fall.
Hannah sent $3,000 of her $25,000 winnings to Compassion International, the nonprofit that connected her with 9-year-old Ruth and her family in Dessie, Ethiopia. A couple of weeks ago, Hannah received pictures of the generator they bought with the money. The family also was able to pay some medical bills.