Sustainable Futures Institute



National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE)

Principal Investigator: Kathleen Halvorsen
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Co-PIs: David Shonnard (ChE, SFI), Robert Handler (SFI, ChE, ECE), + 20 other participants from MTU and other US universities
Award Amount: $4,981,749
Project Duration: 01/01/2013-12/31/2017
Project Summary:

Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) researchers and practitioners grapple with one of our greatest challenges: Given enormous climate change-related uncertainty, how can we manage natural resources such that “Development … meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs?” (Brundtland Commission 1987). Bioenergy will play a major role in meeting these challenges. This project concentrates on one form of bioenergy--liquid transportation fuels or “biofuels”--to investigate the impact of biofuel development on socio-ecological systems and associated ecosystem services, and how can those impacts best be measured, modeled, and mitigated?  Project efforts focus on biodiesel from palm, soy, jatropha, and eucalyptus, and ethanol from sugarcane and woody biomass in four case studies across Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States (US). The project will integrate these case studies across the Americas to address the following questions:

  • How will biofuel development affect socioeconomic systems?
  • How will biofuel development affect ecological systems?
  • What sustainability indicators and metrics best assess biofuel sustainability across highly variable Pan American socio-ecological systems? and
  • How will policy address biofuel-related socio-ecological impacts?

Data collection and analyses will include: 1) biofuel- and ecosystem service-related cultural values, beliefs and norms, and economic and sociological impacts; 2) on-the-ground biofuel production-related ecosystem service impacts, including carbon storage, water quality and quantity, and biodiversity; 3) new sustainability science indicators and metrics using results from the socio-economic and ecosystem service studies; and 4) biofuel policy analysis tied to project ecosystem service and sustainability metrics.


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Michigan Technological University 1400 Townsend Drive Houghton, Michigan 49931
Sustainable Futures Institute

Phone: 906.487.3612
Fax: 906.487.2943