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App State Alternative Energy Classes Opens New Doors With Betty’s Biscuits Truck Project

Betty’s Biscuits, a food truck operated by Reid’s Cafe in Banner Elk, is powered by solar panels installed by students in Appalachian state’s Sustainable Technology program.

By Gianna Holiday

With Appalachian State oftentimes being called a “sustainability campus”, it is no surprise that members of the community have made bolder attempts at renewable energy sources.

For a class project, students from Appalachian State outfitted Betty’s Biscuits food truck from Reid’s Cafe with solar panels. The project was undergone by a class from the Appalachian State Sustainable Technology program.

Tina Houston, the owner of Reid’s Cafe in Banner Elk, wanted to be able to promote good food in the area in a way she felt was community-supported and creative.

“We are a full-scale catering company with a cafe and adding a food truck to the mix seemed like a natural fit,” Houston said. “We love our town and we love the idea of offering more options in the world of food.”

Although the restaurant is located in Banner Elk, Appalachian State’s “green” outlook has evidently spread to nearby towns in hopes to promote cleaner energy and experiment with different power sources, including solar.

“We were motivated by the idea of saving energy and time. We also wanted to offer a cleaner setting and reduce sound ‘pollution’ in place of a generator that typically supports mobile food trucks,” Houston said. “We believe in renewable energy as the future and to support ASU’s efforts in leading the charge.”

Houston’s beliefs in renewable energy fall back to when she was growing up; her family owned and operated a Geodesic Dome Home Building Company in California for 30 years and worked closely with Buckminster Fuller.

Fuller did research on renewable energy sources, alternatives to fossil fuels, global food distribution, as well as atomic energy.

“He had a huge impact on my views growing up witnessing his ingenuity and his dedication to a better future in terms of renewable energies and intentional living. Converting our food truck into solar will allow us to travel further without turning off our equipment such as our fridges, espresso machine, etc,” Houston said. “And we will be able to open up new venues we could not work due to logistics of power sources. It’s a game-changer.”

Renewable energy sources exist across Appalachian State’s campus whether or not people tend to notice. Solar thermal energy for hot water exists in Summit Hall, the Reich College of Education, the Plemmons Student Union, the Varsity Gym, as well as the Biofuels Facility.

“ASU really took the lead on this project and we couldn’t have been happier to work alongside Chris Stevens and Brent Summerville,” said Houston.

Both professors at Appalachian State, Stevens and Summerville helped get the balling rolling on the project. Summerville teaches a battery-based solar class in the App State Sustainable Technology program while Stevens teaches a grad class, Technical Competency Development.

“I believe that natural power will expand to be integrated into all parts of our lives, in some instances completely seamlessly, not noticing the new power source from the old. I think we need to be bolder in our decisions to commit to natural power,” Summerville said.

While the idea of renewable energy is positive on account that it does not emit pollution and includes newly-developed scientific technology, it is also beneficial for those managing the food truck.

“A food truck uses a pretty substantial burst of energy when deployed at a location such as the farmers’ market. It’s often difficult to find a room for the necessary battery bank and other components in a food truck,” Summerville said. “New developments in lithium iron phosphate battery technology enabled us to fit the smaller, lighter battery and other components into the space-constrained mobile kitchen.”

The idea of a mobile system being powered by renewable energy is overall rare but becoming more common with modern-day technology. Appalachian State has often been motivated to take on projects similar to these. This one could push students to tackle new projects and to attempt something new.

“When it comes to science there really is not such a thing as failure, just a hard lesson,” Stevens said. “Motivation behind the project was to show that renewable energy can be used in various different ways, not just on a roof or covering a field. There are many great applications and opportunities for renewables.”

Expansion of renewable energy sources are to be continued through photovoltaic systems, solar, and wind energy both on and off campus. Appalachian State also harbors organizations regarding sustainability, including the Renewable Energy Initiative; this is a student-led, student-funded organization whose main goal is to install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on and off campus.

“This project was taken on because of a combined passion for sustainability from the business owner and myself,” Stevens said. “We both had great ideas and we had the fortunate opportunity to bring together to create a renewably powered business.”

Although this is only one small step, it is a very different way to apply alternative energy sources that could promote ideas for future projects.

Houston said, “The conversation of alternative energy hopefully will start to be a more commonly discussed and accepted and enacted movement, it’s beyond time and it’s up to us. I hope to spread the word with this little biscuit truck, simple and easy.”

These solar panels will power everything needed in the food truck.