The Wind in the Winnebago

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…