University hosts environmental conference in St. Paul

Topics ranged from the viability of wind energy to reducing carbon emissions.

Aerospace engineer senior Alexander Tran shows the University of Minnesota solar car.

Aerospace engineer senior Alexander Tran shows the University of Minnesota solar car.

Raghav Mehta

Business leaders, policymakers, researchers and students gathered Tuesday in St. Paul for a conference addressing a range of environmental issues facing society. The sixth annual Energy, Economic and Environmental (E3) conference, sponsored by the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, consisted of panel discussions and research exhibits on things ranging from the viability of wind energy to reducing carbon emissions. While the workshops and booths covered specific parts of different issues, the conferenceâÄôs âÄúSuper PanelâÄù discussed the conferenceâÄôs overarching theme: providing sustainability of fuel, food, fiber and freshwater to the global population. The panel featured officials from Mansanto Company, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Corn Growers Association and Natural Resources Canada and was moderated by Jonathan Foley, director of the UniversityâÄôs Institute on the Environment. Panelists addressed the various factors affecting the future of world agriculture, such as population growth, food shortages and maintaining ecosystems. The issues are complex, and âÄúmeeting the multiple demands will be the big challenge,âÄù said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Solutions included imploring communities to change their diets by eating less meat and dairy. The panel suggested using feedstocks instead of food for biofuels as a way to address energy problems. âÄúBiofuels should be a part of our system, but so should solar and wind power,âÄù Rick Tolman, of the National Corn Growers Association, said. The conferenceâÄôs main focus centered on the theme of sustainability, but booths, research boards and workshops scattered throughout the center promoted a variety of causes involving renewable energy and alternative energy. Loni Kemp, a consultant on agriculture and renewable energy, said the conference gives people âÄúa chance to hear national and regional leaders … and brings people out of their nooks and crannies to learn about different ideas.âÄù Various regional groups displaying boards and booths included the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Energy Misers, Clean Air Choice and several student-led projects. One research board, assembled by a group of University graduate students, was devoted to improving energy production for large wind turbines. The board stated that wind energy is a sustainable, cost-competitive energy and included information on current and future work on building better, more efficient turbines and studying health impacts of solar energy.