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Biofuels Project Receives Irving Institute Seed Grant Funding

Jun 22, 2021   |   Irving Institute for Energy & Society

The Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society at Dartmouth announced that three energy and society projects have been awarded funding during the 2021–22 seed grant cycle.

The Seed Grant Program seeks to advance innovative, multidisciplinary, collaborative energy and society research around energy and society topics. Applicants are encouraged to consider the critical barriers that are hampering transitions to energy systems that are sustainable, resilient, and equitable and to develop proposals that could overcome those barriers or shed new light on how they might be addressed.

[Thayer] projects that received funding during the most recent award cycle are:

Soil Incubation Experiments to Inform a Strategy for Cellulosic Biofuel Production that Avoids Land Competition and Enhances Soil Health

Principal Investigators: Assistant Professor Caitlin Hicks Pries (Biological Sciences) and Professor Lee Lynd (Engineering)

Project Team: Michelle Wang (student); Sarah Goldsmith (staff, Biological Sciences)

Project Abstract: The world produces over 100 EJ of inedible crop residues that if converted to liquid biofuels could satisfy the majority of global demand for difficult-to-electrify, carbon-neutral transport. Current analyses of cellulosic liquid biofuel production assume the resulting high-lignin fermentation with this assumption is that soil carbon and nutrients are depleted relative to leaving the crop residues on the field. We hypothesize that such depletion could be avoided, and net agricultural benefits achieved, if the HLFB were instead returned to the soil. To inform this hypothesis, which has potential to turn the "food vs fuel" debate on its head, we propose the first experimental study on the fate of HLFB from liquid biofuel production in agricultural soils. We will use controlled laboratory incubations to compare soil carbon and nutrient levels in soils with added HLFB from different biofuel production processes and with added corn stover. We will then use a model to scale up our results and project the effects of returning HLFB to different soil types and in different climates. This project will support a master's student and has outstanding potential to seed additional funding.

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