Most women carry a wallet, phone and lipstick in their handbags. Rebecca Harrell carries a glass beaker containing a green-colored liquid. “It’s algae,” she says, explaining that she and her fiancé Josh Tickell use it to fill the gas tank of their modified Prius, which gets 150 miles to the gallon via an extended battery pack they charge nightly.

“You’ll be able to buy fuel derived from algae at a pump within five years and you won’t have to modify your engine. It’ll cost the same, but rather than extracting oil from the ground, which takes 150 million years to make, this takes two days. And we could stop importing $250 billion in oil. It will save America,” predicts Harrell, who’s thrilled that the world is finally getting on the biodiesel bandwagon.

Tickell’s acclaimed documentary Fuel, which she produced, was about the importance of finding alternatives to our dependence on fossil fuel, and it’s her continuing mission to spread the message. “We created a green curriculum for schools, grades 9-12, and we have a 35 minute version of our movie available for free download that’s approved for use in classrooms. How can we hope to have a more sustainable future if we don’t change the information that is being taught? Our programs have a real-life impact that inspire action.”

The programs, which cover oil alternatives such as solar, wind, sustainable biofuels, and electricity, and include lesson plans and related activities, are available at CurriculumHub.com, where teachers can also upload their own eco-content. Harrell developed the curricula in response to requests from Fuel viewers with the help of several educators in Los Angeles.

Over 500 schools have downloaded the materials so far, says Harrell, who wanted to target teens first because “they have the most influence on their families. When they say, ‘My future is at stake and I want us to start taking care of the environment,’ it’s really powerful. And they’re also the most interested in the solutions and taking action. They’re so ready to do something about it.” Not neglecting younger kids, she’s working with Breathe California to develop curricula for grades kindergarten through 8.

Gratified by the positive response to Fuel, Harrell is especially proud of the impact it has made in getting schools to switch their buses to biodiesel, creating a safer environment for children. “The air inside school buses is toxic because of all the emissions, which are directly linked to asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease. We’re working on a B20 campaign designed to get 20 percent biodiesel in any school that wants it.”

Meet Algaeus, the hybrid

She does not, however, think of biodiesel as the “one silver bullet solution to solve all our problems” but instead encourages taking a “broader perspective, and like nature rely on an ecology of solutions in conjunction with one another to achieve sustainability.” Her algae fuel/plug-in hybrid — Algaeus, as she calls it — just might be the wave of the future. She and Tickell recently drove it on a six-week cross country trip, leading a convoy of alternatively powered vehicles, charging its nickel cadmium hydride battery (“95 percent recyclable”) by plugging it into the solar panels on the Big Green Energy Bus each night.

The trek was filmed — warts and all — for the couple’s next movie.

“We’re co-directing a documentary comedy about how to change the world. It follows our hilarious journey across the country and all of our failures, the good, the bad, the ugly,” says Harrell, offering “me underneath the car in heels” as an example of the latter. They’re interviewing experts and hope to finish it in time to make the film festival circuit and Academy Awards consideration deadline next year. “Josh took 11 years to make Fuel. I don’t think we’ll need that long on this one.”

Working in a solar paneled editing suite with energy-efficient monitors, the couple lives at the beach in Venice, Calif., sans air conditioning and rarely uses heating. “Our electric bill is very low. We have LED lights wherever possible, we dry our clothes on clotheslines, and we bike to work and walk a lot. Such eco-practices will no doubt be included in the book that they’re writing about “how to save money and go green.” 

Life-changing encounter

Harrell, who met Tickell five years ago doing volunteer work, relates to those who tell her their lives have changed because of Fuel.

“I had a very successful career in marketing real estate and Josh showed me 15 minutes of footage a couple of years ago and I couldn’t even talk or move or breathe. I told him that every second that I had I would give to this cause. I sold my house and quit my job. Everybody told me I was out of my mind. And I have lived such a fulfilled life doing nothing but this since that moment,” she says.

Currently involved with a “top secret” project “that has to do with algae and a breakthrough in technology that we’re going to launch in March,” Harrell has something else on her busy agenda: her Jan. 1 wedding to Tickell, which, of course, will be green. “Everything will be local,” she says. “No red meat. And we’ll have Patron tequila, which is sustainable, and we’ll put algae in our champagne.”

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MNN homepage photo courtesy Greenlight Theatrical