The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Kansas State University a three-year grant to study the impact of alternative fuels. K-State researchers are receiving nearly $700,000 to study the social, cultural and economic impacts of the “biofuels revolution” on rural communities in Kansas and Iowa.
The $696,827 grant comes from the department’s Ethical, Legal and Societal Implications of Research on Alternative Bioenergy Technologies, Synthetic Genomes or Nanotechnologies program. The researchers from K-State’s department of sociology, anthropology and social work are: Theresa Selfa, assistant professor; Laszlo Kulcsar, assistant professor; Gerad Middendorf, associate professor; and Richard Goe, professor. They are joined by Carmen Bain, assistant professor of sociology at Iowa State University.
“There has been very little research into the social dimensions of the bioeconomy,” said Selfa, who is the grant’s principal investigator. “We are among a small number of social science researchers examining this topic, which is why this grant is very important.”
As the United States works to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and expand the development of alternative fuels, ethanol plants are springing up in rural communities across the Midwest, including those in Kansas and Iowa. Although such plants often are touted as economic and population drivers, Selfa said that the social and economic costs and benefits haven’t been assessed with in-depth case study research. The project will examine four Kansas communities and two Iowa communities to see whether claims that ethanol plants will revitalize the towns hold true.