Listening to the Land
Yellowstone National Park is a symphony of sound, from the whoosh of Old Faithful Geyser (erupting every 91 minutes) to the bellow of bison on the range. But not all sounds enhance the natural music of America’s first national park. At Lamar Buffalo Ranch, an off-the-grid environmental education campus within the park, diesel and propane generators had long provided the power necessary for field research but with the undesired drone of combustion engines. Beyond noise, the generators produced emissions that challenged Yellowstone’s efforts to become the greenest park in the world. Building on a longstanding partnership, Toyota developed a nearly silent solution to meet the isolated ranch’s energy needs while also advancing its sustainability initiatives.
The Sound of Silence
On a brisk morning at Lamar Buffalo Ranch Kevin Butt, Toyota General Manager and Regional Environmental Director, addressed an expectant audience. “I’m pleased to announce we’re about to switch from the generator system to the batteries,” he said. “The quiet is about to happen.” With that, the chugging generator cuts out and silence prevails, followed quickly by cheers. Success: Toyota’s effort to combine solar panels with 208 re-purposed Camry Hybrid battery packs delivered sustainable, zero-emission power to the five-building ranger station for the first time since its founding in 1907. The result was music to everyone’s ears.
This is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had. Some days I get up in the morning and go ‘wow!’ because with this project, we’re not just going to work and being innovative. We’re making a difference.
Toyota’s partnership with Yellowstone is noteworthy not only because it is the first project of its kind to adapt recovered hybrid vehicle batteries to make an off-grid site energy independent. The project also proves that it is possible to double the lifespan of hybrid batteries after their usable life in automobile-grade applications passes. This secondary benefit offers a glimpse of the groundbreaking energy solutions that will come from this technology in the future.
We have eight million hybrid vehicles on the road today. Imagine if we can do this with 200 batteries, over time what we would do with eight million batteries. The opportunity is all around us.
The Beat Goes On
Toyota’s success at Lamar Buffalo Ranch establishes a model for generating sustainable power at remote, off-the-grid conservation centers everywhere. The key contribution of Sharp USA SolarWorld, which provided solar panels for the project, proves that efficient systems can be affordably implemented and that corporate collaborations can produce big impacts. The system currently in place generates enough electricity to power six U.S. households per year; advancements in energy-capture systems promise more powerful potential and applicability in the future. Toyota’s ongoing work with the Yellowstone Park Foundation reminds us that innovative public–private initiatives can harmonize with lasting social and conservation benefit.