Innovators in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division have received funding for new projects that explore the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on biofuel feedstock production. Two projects are supported by grants from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.
Sebastien Biraud is a Co-Investigator of a newly funded ARPA-E project named “Ric n’Grits.” Michael R. Schuppenhauer from Arva Intelligence Corp. (Park City, UT) is the Project Investigator. This project will likely start this spring and will last three years. It will establish five validation sites where dedicated energy crops (corn) and crop residues (straw) are used for the production of domestic, sustainable, carbon-negative biofuels (i.e. ethanol and biogas).
Digestate from the production of biogas will be returned to fields to replace fertilizer, generating a circular biofuel economy. The researchers will measure carbon and nitrogen fluxes at each site using state-of-the-art high-frequency commercial-scale monitoring towers to assess CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions at sub-second resolution throughout the year, including during post-harvest periods. All farm equipment is highly instrumented, and will measure fuel and electricity use, and fertilizer applied, in addition to crop yield and management practices. Weather, soil, and plant composition will be monitored for nutrient and carbon fluxes. Soil samples will be gathered for DNA and RNA sequencing to monitor and identify biological carbon and nitrogen cycles of the microbiome.
From this data, the team will conduct techno-economic and life-cycle analyses of the relationship between biofuels and the environment. A generative model for biofuel yield will be constructed accounting for carbon and nitrogen cycles and the soil microbial communities and plant metabolic processes that drive terrestrial carbon sequestration, and carbon and nitrogen emissions. Researchers will use this model to optimize productivity towards carbon neutrality/negativity and increased farmer income.
Under another ARPA-E grant, Yuxin Wu will co-lead a team in developing advanced machine learning tools for cross-scale quantification of carbon intensity (CI) during biofuel feedstock production. Berkeley Lab will act as the integrator across all SMARTFARM teams to analyze complex, multi-physics, and multi-scale datasets, and develop scaling approaches across the variety of CI monitoring fields.
The ARPA-E SMARTFARM (Systems for Monitoring and Analytics for Renewable Transportation Fuel from Agricultural Resources and Management) program is based on the belief that biofuels have the potential to be a carbon-negative source of energy. The DOE anticipates that technical developments resulting from the program will simultaneously promote greater profitability for farmers and greater environmental sustainability for our planet.
An additional grant was awarded to Xiaoqin Wu by the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). This one-year project is expected to help fill data gaps regarding environmental toxicity of new firefighting foam candidates, which are thought to be less toxic than traditional firefighting foams containing notorious fluorosurfactants. Outcomes of this research will assist the Department of Defense in the final selection of new firefighting foams and mitigate potential exposures and future environmental cleanup.