In Search of Spatial Opportunities for Sustainable Bioenergy Production

03:30 PM - 04:30 PM
Yetta Jager, National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Syntheses , ORNL
Center for Bioenergy Sustainability Seminar
Building 1505, Ocoee Room (189)
Email: Jennifer Smith

Environmental sustainability is an important social requirement for development of new industries such as bioenergy. We are seeking spatial opportunities for both economic (energy) and environmental (water quality and biodiversity) improvement at two spatial scales. In collaboration with Argonne to assess the Mississippi River basin, we forecasted future changes in water quality in response to converting lands to produce bioenergy feedstocks in the Arkansas-White-Red river basin (AWR), one of five major river basins draining to the Mississippi River. The AWR has a strong precipitation gradient from east to west, and advanced cellulosic feedstocks are projected to become economically feasible within normal-to-wet areas of the region. In this study, we used large-scale watershed modeling to identify areas along this precipitation gradient with potential for improving water quality. Spatially, decreased loadings prevailed in the transitional ecotone between 97° and 100° longitude, where switchgrass, Panicum virgatum L., is projected to compete against alternative crops and land uses at $50 per dry ton. We conclude that this region contains areas that hold promise for sustainable bioenergy production in terms of both economic feasibility and water-quality protection. We are now conducting a similar comparison for the Tennessee River basin. Our most recent efforts are focused on understanding how spatial decisions by individual land owners at a finer resolution can lead toward more sustainable outcomes.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Jager is a senior researcher at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and adjunct faculty in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, where she is an alumnus. Dr. Jager conducts applied ecological research to define pathways toward sustainable energy production. One of her dominant research threads has been bringing ecological values into the decision-making process when evaluating energy systems. The tools used in her research include habitat, population and empirical models combined with optimization with spatial or temporal decision variables. Her applied population models for ESA-listed species seek to represent realistic features (for hydropower: altered flow, passage options, and hatcheries; for petroleum: layout of oil wells and other infrastructure). This research has produced practical guidelines for spatial decisions about reconnection (fish passage) and adaptive management of hatcheries, and similar outcomes are expected in the bioenergy arena. Results have generally shown that managing the system as though it were not used to support energy production does not protect animal populations as well as alternatives that are optimized for both types of ecosystem services, including provision of energy.


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