Our bioenergy research to date, which has shown the great promise of bioenergy with CCS as a climate mitigation strategy, has been focused on energy conversion. Larson and Williams intend to extend our analyses to include consideration of biomass production and and its impacts via collaborations with researchers in agricultural fields (agronomy/agricultural engineering/agricultural economics) and ecology to help us with the “farm-based” aspects of bioenergy systems.
A major concern about bioenergy carried out at large scales is impacts on biodiversity. Conventional wisdom is that the best approach to mitigate biodiversity concerns is to pursue intensive biomass production for energy so as to minimize the amount of land required. Steve Pacala has an alternative vision involving low-intensity production of native species on lands that are simultaneously used for wildlife habitat, with the objective of enhancing biological diversity thereby. These two alternative visions will be analysed and compared for switchgrass in the Great Plains, with regard to implications for biomass production, transport, and conversion technologies, overall system costs, and biodiversity impacts.
We will seek collaborators to work with at the University of Minnesota—where Ken Keller and his collaborators are developing a research strategy to help catalyze new renewable energy industries in the Great Plains, and where David Tillman is carrying out pioneering ecological research on switchgrass.