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The Wind in the Winnebago

2008 May 16

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA, and serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

photo of Jeffery RobichaudOne of my first recollections of Kansas City was sitting at a stoplight while fierce gusts of wind attacked my car and shook traffic signal poles so viciously that I thought they would snap like popsicle sticks. Actually, it wasn’t just the wind but also the ragweed that was assaulting my car and senses. I am violently allergic to ragweed and the stuff grows…well like weeds out here.

My allergies notwithstanding, we have pretty good air quality throughout the Midwest although we do face challenges with ozone and particulate matter in urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis. Throughout the country, states, tribes, and local governments maintain monitors that sample for pollutants. Since these monitors play an important role in revealing air quality, they must be operated and maintained properly. We assist by auditing stations to ensure that equipment is operating properly. This work requires a platform that can house delicate instruments yet is rugged enough drive to remote locations. After several possibilities we settled on a Winnebago, but there is nothing recreational about this vehicle.

We designed it to operate as a mobile air monitoring laboratory. We’ve used this platform successfully for a number of years and it serves as a great conversation piece when we talk with children about air quality. On-site audits require several hours to complete and we use a gasoline generator to power the instruments. Sometime last year the guys got the idea of supplementing the lab with the abundant source of clean energy that was howling in their ears… wind.

photo of staff mounting the windmill up on the side of the vehicle

Several weeks ago we installed a turbine to harness the clean energy provided by the wind. The turbine generates electricity to recharge batteries stored inside the lab that when fully charged can run the entire lab for up to eight hours without a single wisp of generator exhaust. Thanks to this innovation we will conserve gasoline on each trip (as long as the wind cooperates). As my old high school football coach Sherman SmithExit EPA Disclaimer used to say… if it’s to be it’s up to me. We know that it is up to all of us to find ways to help reduce our carbon footprint both at home and where we work, even if work is sometimes on a dusty road in western Nebraska. Now if we could just find something to use all that ragweed for…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcus permalink
    May 19, 2008

    I believe this is what they call a “win/win” situtation.

  2. Bill Pedicino permalink
    May 19, 2008

    Perhaps we should use wind energy to power part of our building

  3. Anonymous permalink
    May 19, 2008

    Great blog!

  4. edie permalink
    May 19, 2008

    Really great blog!

  5. catherine Wooster-Brown permalink
    May 21, 2008

    Nice use of an old RV! As far as your allergies go…how about organizing all the ragweed allergy sufferers one day every year and start weeding!

  6. Larry Shepard permalink
    May 21, 2008

    Nice job, Jeff. Next, the Aqua Team.

  7. Holly Mehl permalink
    May 21, 2008

    As an Ecologist within Jeff’s branch, I’m proud of the work the air monitoring guys are doing, and am happy they found a sustainable way to get their work done!

  8. Sim Garner permalink
    August 30, 2008

    Since you are monitoring air quality it is nice to see you are contributing to better air quality even just a little with the use of a vertical wind turbine to produce a good portion of the power you use.

  9. Homemade Wind Generator permalink
    November 11, 2008

    I would like to build my self a homemade wind generator and thought about the exact same thing, why not attach it to your car or why wouldn´t buses riding in cities use such a solution to power up schools or something.

  10. John permalink
    December 10, 2008

    There is enough wind in Nebraska to put this to use! If we could only trap some of the breeze generated by the running backs from the Nebraska football team, there would be some real green power there! Ha! No, seriously great article.

  11. Brian Walsh permalink
    November 27, 2009

    What a cool use for a homemade wind generator! I’m constantly amazed at the creativity people have in solving their energy problems.


  12. Cabel permalink
    November 25, 2010

    That lawsuit was filed in Winnebago County by Patricia Muscarello, an Arizona resident who owns Watts Farm, Hilton Farm and Ross Farm, which collectively comprise more than 400 acres near German Valley. Muscarello’s property is near an area where Navitas Energy Corp. would erect more than 100 wind turbines as part of a farm of more than 400 turbines that would span three counties.

  13. thomasjjolliff permalink
    June 2, 2011

    Great work to help our ecosystem and it’s very good way to manage our carbon footprint with the help of windmills

  14. Anonymous permalink
    August 25, 2011

    What do you think about using the ragweed for bio-diesel?

    Wilbur Gay

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