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UW Scientists Part of $6 Million Biofuel, Carbon Capture Project

October 6, 2017

Agricultural economists at the University of Wyoming will generate models of what economies in the Upper Missouri River Basin might look like if raising biofuels and carbon capture technologies were implemented.

UW is part of the four-year, $6 million National Science Foundation project working with Montana State University and the University of South Dakota to determine if changes in commodity production and capturing carbon are sustainable, or even feasible, in the basin.

The group includes more than 31 private, state and federal institutions and more than 50 people. Project organization began last year. The project’s website is

Each university is receiving $2 million. UW’s role is developing the economic models, says Selena Gerace, UW Extension outreach coordinator for the project.

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 going in -- through alternative agricultural and energy approaches, such as biofuels, and above- and below-ground carbon sequestration.

The Upper Missouri River Basin refers to the Missouri River and all its tributaries upstream of Sioux City, Iowa. The area includes all or parts of Wyoming, Montana, South and North Dakota and Nebraska, and more than 20 Native American reservations.

Global-scale modeling of carbon reduction already has been done, Gerace says. This project examines the regional scale.

“How would we fit into this?” she asks. “What would it look like in the Upper Missouri River Basin?”

Gerace has organized the first stakeholder workshop Wednesday, Oct. 11, in Bozeman, Mont. Others will be in Wyoming and South Dakota, she says. Attendees will be asked what kind of biofuels or carbon capture storage is feasible.

The project is an investigation of what would be socially and technically feasible and what that might look like, she says.

“If we were to do wide-scale bioenergy production, how much is that going to impact the amount of food being produced, and what are the economic, ecological and social trade-offs?” Gerace asks. “Our piece of the puzzle is looking at what would happen at both the farm and regional scales.”

Researchers across several UW departments and centers are involved. Ben Rashford, associate professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, leads the UW effort in economic modeling. Others from the department are Professor Roger Coupal, Associate Professor John Ritten, research scientists Amy Nagler and Anna Clark, and graduate student Eilish Hanson.

Also involved 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 Rob Godby and doctoral student Dayana Zhappassova, both in the Department of Economics.

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