Nonprofit organization turns soda cans into solar power


Members of the Green Energy Team pose for a photo with a Solar Energy Heater. The Green Energy Team is making Solar Energy Heaters out of aluminum cans for use by underprivileged families.

By April Dahlquist

Now you can throw a party and help America at the same time.

For every donation of 150 aluminum cans, nonprofit organization Green Energy Team makes a solar energy heater and donates it to an underprivileged family.

Derek Granat, a senior at Western Illinois University, had the idea about a year ago and decided to put his thoughts into action. After launching Green Energy Team on Western’s campus two months ago, he has seen tremendous results in terms of can donations.

“This doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Granat said. “I can’t find any other organization that takes away people’s recycling for free and donates it back to the American people. It does not exist.”

Within the week, the University of Illinois will have 20 can collection bins, mostly at fraternity houses, where anyone can donate aluminum cans. Green Energy Team will then pick up the cans and have them either made into solar panels or turned in for 30 cents a pound so they can buy other supplies for the heater.

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The cans are painted black in order to better absorb heat, so whatever beverage selection was made will not be displayed.

“It seemed like a really simple job and simple way to help out people,” said David Kirmse, Green Energy Team University of Illinois chapter president, and sophomore in LAS. “It’s really not hard to sell to people either. ‘I’m going to be your garbage man — put your cans in a special bin and I will pick them up.'”

The solar energy heater is meant to be used in conjunction with standard heating systems, not to replace them. Although it all depends on the size of the room, the heater can reduce heating costs on average between 20 and 30 percent.

The panel is installed on the roof of the home, where air is pushed from the room, heated within the panel, and then pushed back into the room as warmer air.

Although the solar heater won’t work if the day is completely overcast, most days at least have sunny portions, Granat said.

Because the weather is getting warmer, Green Energy Team is waiting to donate the heaters until the fall. This way they can get an application ready for the families who want the free heater before formally giving away the heaters.

“I’d like to see Green Energy Team in every state,” Granat said. “I know it sounds funny when people first hear about it, but this could change how we look at things and just change recycling itself.”

On the weekend of Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, Kirmse collected 35 bags of cans and donated them to Western. Because of this great start, Kirmse is enthusiastic that the project will be successful at Illinois.

“There is no reason why [we] can’t do it here,” Kirmse said. “We’re the smartest people in the country, and this is a way to be environmentally conscious and use solar heat, so really it’s a win-win situation.”

Eric Anden, freshman in Engineering, was enthusiastic to get involved with Green Energy Team after he was contacted about setting up a collection bin.

“I jumped on it right away,” Anden said. “This is something I wanted to get involved with and help out in any way with alternate energy and green technology. It seems like a creative idea with a lot of potential.”

Granat wants to continue participating in Green Energy Team after he graduates. He hopes to expand Green Energy team first to other college campuses such as Bradley and Illinois State University.

Kirmse is doing his best to advertise for Green Energy Team. He will have a booth on the Quad later this week promoting can donations. Any donation of cans will help the cause, he said.

“This is something that is going to happen in the next five years,” Granat said. “Solar energy is the way of the future and not only the rich should be able to obtain these solutions. It should be everyone, and with Green Energy Team everyone can.”