03 2018 (March)

Science features $6 million bioenergy and carbon capture project

Head shot of Ben Rashford.
Ben Rashford

A February Science magazine article highlights the $6 million National Science Foundation (NSF) research project in which College of Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists are examining what the economies in the Upper Missouri River Basin might look like if raising biofuels and carbon capture technologies were implemented.

The article features a stakeholder workshop, hosted through the National Science Foundation research project, in Bozeman, Montana, last fall. Agricultural and applied economics department head Associate Professor Ben Rashford and Selena Gerace, University of Wyoming Extension outreach coordinator for the project and who also coordinated the workshop, attended.

The Science article is at bit.ly/bioenergymeet.

The research project, called the Water Agriculture Food Energy Research Nexus (WAFERx), includes more than 31 private, state, and federal institutions and more than 50 people. It began last year and is funded by an NSF EPSCoR grant. The project’s website is waferx.montana.edu/index.html.

The object of the WAFERx project is to evaluate if changes in commodity production and capturing carbon are sustainable, or even feasible, in the basin, says Gerace.

UW is working with Montana State University and the University of South Dakota. MSU will study agriculture and biofertilizers, food security, clean energy, and water supply and quality. USD will focus on land use, biodiversity, and ecosystem services assessment.

The goal is to decrease atmospheric carbon – perhaps even remove more than is being released in – through alternative agricultural and energy approaches, such as biofuels, and above and below ground carbon sequestration.

Rashford is principal investigator for the UW team examining how widespread adoption of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could affect land use and the regional economy.

“They will consider farm level profitability and what incentives are necessary to motivate farmers to produce bioenergy crops,” says Gerace.

Rashford co-led one of the discussions at the Bozeman workshop, which was attended by WAFERx team members and stakeholders from a range of conservation and agriculture organizations. He presented information about his research and asked how feasible adopting different aspects of BECCS would be and why.

Other members of the agricultural and applied economics department involved are Associate Professors John Ritten and Roger Coupal, research scientists Amy Nagler and Anna Clark, and graduate student Eilish Hanson.

Others from UW are Windy Kelley, Regional Extension Program coordinator for the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub; Shannon Albeke, ecoinformatics research scientist with the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center; and associate professor Robert Godby and Dayana Zhappassova, Ph.D. student, in the UW Department of Economics and Finance.

The WAFERx project is in the second year of its four-year grant.  Gerace said they plan to organize more opportunities to include stakeholders in their research over the next two and a half years.