Friday, March 24, 2017

Wyoming Researchers Explore the Future of Food, Energy, and Water

The University of Wyoming will partner on two different research projects under an EPSCoR Track 2 grant awarded by the National Science Foundation.

The first project under this grant will study the effects of carbon mitigation scenarios on the upper Missouri River Basin. UW will collaborate with researchers from the University of Montana and the University of South Dakota to explore the implementation of a new energy system called BECCS, which stands for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.

Bioenergy is classified as crops that are grown for fuel purposes, such as corn used in ethanol.
Carbon capture and storage is a technology that takes carbon that is released into the atmosphere by power plants and compresses it into a liquid form. Once in this form it can be stored underground miles below the surface.

Photo Credit: Global CCS Institute
By implementing BECCS in the future, there is the potential to combat the high CO2 levels in the atmosphere that contribute to climate change. This technology is still fairly new and untested, which allows for the opportunity to further research.

This project will investigate the effects this energy system may have on social, economic, and environmental aspects of the area. Through modeling and extensive field research, scientists hope to better understand how to produce clean energy without creating conflict with food security.

Another component of the project is diversifying the STEM workforce. The schools are looking to involve Tribal Colleges in the area to reach out to Native American student populations.

The second Track 2 project will see University of Wyoming researchers working in a collaborative group to study different methods to convert biomass into various materials for energy, food, and water production. The team is led by Jackson State University, and will include University of Delaware and University of Mississippi.

Photo Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration
The researchers from the four campuses will focus on biomass to oil and biochar. Biofuel is not only clean but also renewable. Biochar has the potential to be used as an inexpensive energy source that benefits environmental quality and soil fertility. Through this research, scientists may find methods of using the biomaterials that were traditionally thought of as wastes for energy and food production, as well as water resource conservation.

The team of scientists from the University of Wyoming, led by School of Energy Resources Professor Maohong Fan, is interdisciplinary, with researchers spanning three different colleges specializing in a variety of disciplines within engineering and agriculture. Specifically Professors Maohong Fan, Hertanta Adidharma, Jinke Tang, Khaled A. M. Gasem, Maciej Radosz, and Jian Cai in the College of Engineering and Applied Science; Professor Urszula Norton in College of Agriculture; and Professor Gang Tan, John Boman, and TeYu Chien. Social scientist Professor Boman will inform the team about social and economic impacts of this technology on the state.

An outcome of this project is a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of bio-resources for application in developing energy, food, and water sustainable technologies. The team is also looking towards recruiting new faculty, graduate and post doctorate researchers, and undergraduate students to develop a diverse workforce.

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