MSU Attends the Southwest Biofuels & Renewable Energy Conference

Early in August, the Sustainable Energy Research Center (SERC) as well as Mississippi Biomass & Renewable Energy Council (MBREC) formed a partnership to bring the inaugural Southeast Biofuels and Renewable Energy Conference to Jackson, MS. The conference, which was held from August 8th – 9th, focused on the importance of the discussion and dissemination of information related to the areas of biofuels and renewable energy and hosted over 175 attendees from academia, industry and government.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Networking for a Sustainable Energy Future.” The conference presentations were organized into five separate focus areas, each of which included speakers from academia, industry and government. The emphasis for the different clusters was to highlight current technology, progress toward commercialization and government policies and priorities for funding.

Rafael Hernandez, Associate Director of SERC, started things off by stating that they had gathered together some of the “best experts” you can find from the biofuels and renewable energy industries. “This year specifically, we wanted to show how the pieces are integrated to make some of these ventures successful,” Hernandez explained.

The MSU EcoCAR 2 team’s faculty advisor, Dr. Marshall Molen, was invited to speak about EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to The Future, and how the MSU team has been involved in the AVTC program historically. “When creating this vehicle, we want it to be Mississippi State’s vehicle” – something MSU can be proud of and take ownership of. Dr. Molen then went on to explain that six of the University’s eight colleges are represented among the team’s members. (Make that 7 if you count all of the wonderful Vet school students who helped the team out during their stay in D.C. at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.)

Continuing with his presentation, Dr. Molen explained the competition constraints regarding fuel selection. He noted that, when considering energy sources, factors such as greenhouse gas emissions must be taken all the way back to the initial extraction of the energy source. For example, although their competition vehicle has plug-in functionality & can therefore run off of electricity (which does not emit greenhouse gases), the process of creating that electricity often does result in the emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, when making these decisions and educating others about the technology, the team must fully disclose the vehicle’s true environmentally friendly features.

His presentation wrapped up with a list of Mississippi State’s prior successes, but not before Dr. Molen expressed the unique way the MSU team operates. When the team tells others of how the EcoCAR program gives students the most real-world experience possible, many times the weight of the message is not fully received. Dr. Molen explained how the competition is set up so that teams thrive most when they understand how to work collaboratively with many different disciplines. EcoCAR 2 is not just another engineering competition. This is a three-year commitment to not only understanding the inner workings of a hybrid vehicle. Beyond this, it is also a three-year commitment to fostering the processes that take place between groups of people who have vastly different mind-sets, contrasting backgrounds, but above all, different skills and abilities. This last difference is what the MSU team embraces and they foster an environment where different mindsets can transition from being an obstacle to success to being an opportunity for success. These differences allow the Mississippi State team to approach problems with a portfolio of imaginative solutions, rather than just one vanilla solution that came from a group of like-minded people.

All in all, both EcoCAR 2 and the Biofuels conference embrace the need for government, industry, and academia to work together to solve our society’s most pressing dilemmas. Certainly some progress can be made when working individually, but the potential for success increases ten-fold when collaboration can occur between all three.