By STEVEN NALLEY
Keith Head has at least one good reason not to hate Mississippi’s humidity.
In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency strengthened its air quality standards for ground-level ozone, which, in high quantities, can reduce lung function, aggravate lung conditions and damage vegetation and ecosystems. Head, an environmental engineer with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said Mississippi is one of seven states in the country that meets EPA’s ground-level ozone standards in all its cities and counties, in part because of its humidity.
“You’ve probably never heard of humidity being a good thing,” Head said, “but high humidity actually suppresses ozone.”
Head was one of several guest speakers at Movin’ Maroon, an event held Tuesday by Mississippi State University at their Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems to show what MSU and Mississippi are doing to maintain the state’s environmental well-being and lead the nation in clean, affordable alternative fuel for vehicles.
One of the local speakers was Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman. He said cheaper alternative fuel helps nearly all aspects of municipal government because they all use vehicle fleets: sanitation, police, electricity, water and sewer services.
“I think local government service providers make great test cases for alternative fuels,” Wiseman said. “Rising fuel costs hit everyone hard, but in local government in particular, the effect can be drastic.”
Cities that invest in green technology also illustrate its value to the private sector, Wiseman said. It is challenging to retrofit municipal fleets with green technology and keep tax rates stable, he said, but Starkville has received a stimulus grant for alternative fuel that will help. Starkville also stands to benefit from local research and development of green technology, he said.
“A huge emerging market for economic development is going to come from alternative energy,” Wiseman said. “I want us to be seen as a community that embraces that.”
After a presentation from Alliance Autogas, Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan talked about how helpful it had been for that company to convert 14 of his department’s vehicles to propane hybrids. While the hybrids do shut down sometimes when the propane tank runs out and the vehicle switches to its auxiliary gas tank, Bryan said, he has been able to avoid this by simply turning off the air conditioning during the switch.
“I haven’t got anything but good things to say about them,” Bryan said. “I hope these systems are where you can afford to put them on your personal vehicles in the future.”
Another guest, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, said a key issue is finding funding for research and production of green technology without the government spending more money than it takes in. Concurrently, he said, the economy’s well-being depends on cheap, abundant energy supplies.
“Anybody, regardless of their political affiliations, would say one thing we have to do is end our dependence on foreign oil,” Harper said. “We need an all-of the-above approach on energy.
“Some of the policies we’re dealing with from EPA are detrimental to every industry in this state,” Harper added. “Let’s not let government get in the way.”
Harper also said he has two children at MSU and routinely works with organizations that cite the importance of their work with MSU.
“There’s so much for us to be proud of here at Mississippi State,” Harper said. “Nationally, the reputation we have for research here is phenomenal.”
Marshall Molen, an MSU professor with CAVS, gave a presentation on MSU’s participation in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions. These AVTCs have been in place for 22 years, he said, and in the eight years MSU has been involved, it has continually grown more challenging. He said he is proud of the students have risen to that challenge with innovation and professionalism, winning overall at three AVTCs: Challenge X in 2008 and 2009 and EcoCAR in 2010.
“The AVTCs are an opportunity for our students to learn the very latest technology,” Molen said. “This September, I’ll be taking some of the students to Detroit to learn some of the very latest software, and they’ll be learning from the engineers who developed the software. I don’t know how you can put a price on that.”
The winning 2010 MSU EcoCAR, along with a Nissan Leaf and several propane hybrids, was available for visitors to test drive after the presentation. The EcoCAR is an electric vehicle with a range-extending gas tank, and Molen said it dispels the myth that such vehicles are sluggish.
“This one goes from zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds,” Molen said. “Please don’t do that in our parking lot.”