By STEVEN NALLEY
The Mississippi State University Sustainable Energy Research Center and the Mississippi Biomass Renewable Energy Council will host the inaugural Southeast Biofuels and Renewable Energy Conference Wednesday and Thursday at Jackson’s Marriott Hotel.
Rafael Hernandez, SERC associate director, said this conference will bring together guests from as far away as Germany, including businesspeople, investors, farmers, researchers, students and more. The conference’s goal is to inform the region, the nation and the world about MSU research and statewide business opportunities in biofuels and renewable energy, he said.
“Because of the expertise, (because) of the friendly business environment, because Mississippi has a very good transportation infrastructure and (because) it is also a rich biomass state, I think we have several features that make the (biofuels) industry very attractive to Mississippi,” Hernandez said. “The industry is growing. We will have, within this year probably, two companies operating in Mississippi, one in Columbus, which is Kior, and the other one in Pontotoc, which is Enerkem. Both of these companies will be participating in the conference.”
The new conference is actually a combination of two conferences, Hernandez said, one held by SERC for the past seven years and one held by MBREC for the past eight years. In the past, he said, the SERC conference has brought in researchers from Canada, Mexico and other international locales, and its international audience has grown continually.
“The plan is to have (the formerly separate conferences) together from now on,” Hernandez said. “It’s just a better way of attracting industry and academics and a better use of resources, because there was some overlap in terms of attendees between the two conferences. It’s not necessarily going to be in Jackson all the time. Next year, (it) could be in Biloxi, or (it) may be coming back to (MSU) or some other place within the state.”
Another change this year is a set of five sequential panels, or clusters, as opposed to the breakout sessions of years past, Hernandez said. These clusters will discuss biofuels from pulp and paper operation wastewater, biodiesel from power facility algae, biofuels from Mississippi resources, solar power applications and non-fuel bioproducts from biomass. Each cluster will bring together enough stake holders to let attendees see every step in the scientific, industrial and economic processes that make biofuels viable, he said.
“I think it’s going to be very informative for the audience to see all the pieces that need to be put together to make these ventures successful,” Hernandez said. “This is the first time we (have done) it this way.”
Several of the guest speakers come from MSU, including geosciences associate professor Brenda Kirkland, who will discuss “Sequestering the Remaining Carbon Dioxide.” This topic refers to keeping industrial carbon emissions out of the atmosphere by either storing or reusing them.
“Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of burning of fossil fuels. Instead of releasing it into the atmosphere, it can be captured and stored underground in old oil fields or in saline aquifers — rock layers saturated with salt water,” Kirkland said. “Captured carbon dioxide can also be used by the oil industry to produce more oil from old oil fields that are no longer economically viable. Carbon dioxide is pumped into the (oil fields) through old wells. The carbon dioxide helps make the remaining oil easier to get out of the ground and also helps push it to a producing well. The carbon dioxide is recaptured when the oil is produced and reused to produce more oil.”
Another speaker from MSU, forest products professor Philip Steele, will discuss “Mississippi’s Bio-oil Potential.” Mississippi has a rich supply of biomass timber, with more than 65 percent of its total land area forested, and MSU is conducting research on the trees which yield the most bio-oil.
“The best feedstocks for biomass production that we have tested are pine, hardwoods and giant miscanthus,” Steele said. “We have found that other feedstocks have higher mineral content, which is known to suppress liquid bio-oil yield due to reactions during pyrolysis. This causes the production of more char, gases and water at the expense of the liquid bio-oil product.”
Marshall Molen, MSU EcoCAR 2 faculty advisor, will also appear at the conference. Neither the winning MSU car from the previous EcoCAR 2 competition nor the car for this year’s competition will be on display, he said, but he will be accompanied by two students representing the team.
“We really like that the conference is being held in Jackson, as it helps to stimulate interest by the public, state government, and local industries in renewable energy,” Molen said. “Our position is that the solution to the U.S. energy problem is to use multiple sources of fuel and not be locked into one specific fuel. Biofuels are certainly part of that solution and are also important to Mississippi as (they enable) our state to be a contributor. The research conducted at MSU by Dr. Rafael Hernandez and others bring our region considerable recognition.”