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By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University will hold its sixth annual biofuels conference today through Friday at the Energy Institute in the Thad Cochran Research Park and the Foster Ballroom at the Colvard Student Union.
Ray Mabus, U.S. Secretary of the Navy and former governor of Mississippi, will deliver the keynote address. Mabus was also U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Clinton administration.
Glenn Steele, director of the MSU Energy Institute, said he and other conference staff are honored to have Mabus as lead speaker.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôll be explaining how the Navy has set a high priority for using biofuel to power their naval aircraft and fleet as much as possible,‚ÄĚ Steele said. Their goal is to be less reliant on foreign oil.‚ÄĚ
The agenda for the conference features seminars led by biofuel researchers from universities across the country, including Auburn University, the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University and Ohio State University. Other organizations represented will include the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Air Force, KiOR, General Atomics of San Diego, Calif. and REPREVE Renewables of Soperton, Ga.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre doing a great deal of research in the biofuels area, and it‚Äôs attracting national attention,‚ÄĚ Steele said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre coordinating with other universities and national laboratories. People are very aware of the biofuels research at Mississippi State.‚ÄĚ
Steele said the conference has sometimes moved from campus to Jackson in the past, but this year it will stay in Starkville to showcase biofuel technologies which are nearly ready for commercialization. Rafael Hernandez, MSU chemical engineering professor and conference director, said moving from research to commercialization is the conference‚Äôs theme.
‚ÄúThe idea is to emphasize that many of these technologies that started seven, maybe 10 years ago at a very small scale are now being implemented at a very large scale, and some of those companies are going to be in Mississippi,‚ÄĚ Hernandez said. ‚ÄúKiOR, for instance, is going to be in Columbus.‚ÄĚ
Business executives aren‚Äôt the only ones seeing MSU‚Äôs technology this weekend. Hernandez said high school students visited biofuel facilities in the Thad Cochran Research Park, learning about careers in the field from MSU professors.
‚ÄúThis year, we decided to include some activities for kids as an educational component of the conference,‚ÄĚ Hernandez said. ‚Äú(On Wednesday) we‚Äôll go to Annunciation Catholic School in Columbus, and we‚Äôll spend some time with the seventh and eighth graders, talking about biofuels and doing experiments in the classroom.‚ÄĚ
On the same Thursday as Mabus‚Äô keynote address, Gov. Haley Barbour is set to receive a briefing from General Electric Energy officials on biofuel engines installed at Golden Triangle Regional Landfill to capture methane gas to generate electricity. Hernandez said there is no connection between MSU‚Äôs biofuel conference and this briefing or the landfill facility, a detail GTRL Executive Director Jimmy Sloan confirmed.
Sloan said GTRL will hold an official ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 11 at 11 p.m. for the facility. A previous Associated Press report said the facility would not be online until the end of next year, but Sloan said this was an error.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs already been online, and we‚Äôve been doing some work on the engine,‚ÄĚ Sloan said. ‚ÄúAnytime you want to start up a big project like this, you have to spend a couple of weeks tweaking things.‚ÄĚ