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Use-inspired research

Use-inspired research

Use-inspired research


Confronting concerns associated with domestic energy security and large-scale anthropogenic climate change are principal factors for continued pursuit of renewable energy in the United States.Yet, detrimental indirect and inadvertent consequences related to both climate and food security for first-generation biofuels, illustrate a non-sustainable approach to current bioenergy production. Expansion of perennial biomass energy crops such as switchgrass and miscanthus on U.S. degraded and abandoned farmland may prove to be a viable alternative. However, land-use change associated with this expansion may have additional, direct effects on natural water resources that requires assessment prior to large-scale surface alteration to ensure long-term environmental sustainability. This project will integrate physical (i.e., coupled hydro-climatic modeling, using WRF 3.4 coupled to two different land surface models), agricultural (i.e., crop modeling, using EPIC and CENTURY crop models), and socioeconomic (i.e., economic modeling, using FASOMGHG and BEPAM models) elements to evaluate system resilience associated with expansion of perennial bioenergy crops on U.S. degraded and abandoned farmland. Geographically explicit maps depicting sustainable regional "hot-spots" of perennial biomass energy expansion will be developed. The research will quantify impacts on the local hydrologic cycle, including effects on soil and groundwater resources (e.g., change in water table depth), and associated climatic consequences to determine if expansion is feasible and sustainable over decadal timescales. Assessment of photosynthetic production of bioenergy crops will be undertaken and resulting modeled yields will be translated to quantify the fraction of U.S. liquid fuel consumption that could be offset. The research will also evaluate economic profitability of growing perennial biomass energy crops in identified "hot-spot" areas. Potential designs for extension of agricultural programs, such as the commodity reserve program, to promote growth of perennial biomass energy crops in identified regions, will also be examined.

By exploring bioenergy expansion through an integrated lens that incorporates physical, agricultural, and economic elements, this project will guide local to national level agencies making decisions regarding the feasibility of biomass-derived energy. The modeling tools will enable water and resource managers as well as farmers to recognize impacts and trade-offs of large-scale deployment of perennial biomass energy crops to make more informed decisions for water resource management. Thus, the project will promote decision-maker participation and expand opportunities for citizen engagement. The project will also enable participation, expand opportunities, and assist in the mentoring of underrepresented groups through a unique educational collaboration with a not-for-profit (K-12) public charter school.



National Science Foundation, Division of Earth Sciences


September 2012 — August 2017