GREEN BAY – A grant from Wisconsin Focus on Energy will allow researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Environmental Management and Business Institute the opportunity to evaluate the economic and environmental outcomes of converting marginal agricultural areas into biomass-yielding grasslands for electricity and heat generation in the state.
Starting in July, UW-Green Bay students and professors will use the $164,853 grant to study the multiple benefits of converting non-ideal farmland into sustainable grassland areas that can be used to produce bio-fuels for energy and heat production.
Planting agricultural crops in poorly drained or marginal soil areas may be delayed, prevented or unprofitable for traditional farming. However, these areas may be ideally suited for native, mixed-species grasslands that can withstand harsher conditions, yet still be harvested for bio-fuel production, researchers say.
Targeted plantings of these grasslands between agricultural fields and aquatic systems could also reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into watersheds, thus limiting pollution and improving the health of the state’s valuable water resources.
“Future energy demands will only be met with diverse and environmentally sustainable energy sources,” said Prof. Matt Dornbush, Natural and Applied Sciences. “This project seeks to answer if it is economically and environmentally feasible to use biomass-based energy produced through the growth of native grasslands to help fill those needs.
“Understanding the answer to this question will allow us to maximize the ecological benefits that perennial grassland plantings can provide. It will also steer Northeastern Wisconsin toward the development of a home-grown, inexpensive energy source to drive the region’s economic competitiveness into the future.”
The research is made possible by the Focus on Energy Environmental and Economic Research and Development Program (EERD).
The goal of the EERD is to better understand the environmental and economic impacts of energy use-primarily for heating and electricity production within Wisconsin-by funding research projects that address crucial gaps in current knowledge. Funded projects, including UW-Green Bay’s, will contribute to a broader understanding of these impacts.
The grant will fund two years of research for the project, titled “Maximizing Ecological Services and Economic Returns from Targeted Establishment of Biomass Grasslands for Electricity and Heat Generation in Wisconsin.”
“UW-Green Bay is the ideal research institution for this kind of study,” said Prof. Kevin Fermanich, co-director of the University’s newly developed Environmental Management and Business Institute (EMBI). “This grant will help EMBI researchers partner with local and regional resources to try and meet the energy needs of tomorrow by developing sources of clean, renewable and environmentally-friendly energy.”
The research will be carried out by professors Dornbush and Fermanich, Natural and Applied Sciences; Prof. John Stoll, EMBI co-director, Public and Environmental Affairs; Watershed Analyst Paul Baumgart, Natural and Applied Sciences; and two UW-Green Bay graduate students.