Sustaining Economies with Biofuels

lush forest surrounding a streamAlong with colleagues from Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and Tuskegee University, Assistant Professor Pankaj Lal recently began work on a three-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that assesses the socioeconomic impacts of forest biomass-based biofuel development in the rural south. Their findings will help to develop policies for enhancing rural economies in the thirteen southern states known as “the wood basket of the world.”

“My hope is that counties identified as persistently poor which are adjacent to forest lands would benefit from the development of a woody bioenergy industry,” says Lal, who who teaches in the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies.  Doctoral student Bernabas T. Wolde will help Lal collect and analyze data, as well as prepare journal manuscripts.

Lal is also involved in the new Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center (JCERDC), a U.S.-India initiative committed to advancing clean energy technologies. As Co-Project Director of consortium led by the University of Florida—one of three consortia funded by a $6.25-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy—he will identify sustainability indicators for advanced biofuel production from sorghum and switch grass in the United States.

“I’ll be focusing on sustainability, marketing and policy aspects of advanced biofuel production,” explains Lal. “I’ll estimate net greenhouse gas emissions and assess the economic viability of biofuel production under different scenarios.”

The Center will benefit both the United States and India, in part, by helping meet the long-range energy security goals of both countries by increasing production levels of second-generation and blended biofuels.  “When completed, the project will provide a working model for advanced biofuel production and supply with environmental and economic benefits,” Lal says.