Montana State University (MSU) has received a $6 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new innovations at the intersection of food, energy and water systems. MSU will be working alongside the University of Wyoming and the University of South Dakota to address the sustainability profiles of biofuels and carbon capture technologies that would be introduced in the Upper Missouri River Basin.
The project’s Principal Investigator is Paul Stoy. He is an associate professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in MSU’s College of Agriculture. Each of the three coordinating universities will receive $2 million to pursue its portion of the project. On the whole, Stoy said, the grant “emphasizes interdisciplinary student training.”
According to Stoy, the primary goal of the project is to develop a framework for evaluating proposals to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations while maintaining food security, water quality, biodiversity and other benefits. Stoy also anticipates the identification of unexpected social and environmental conflicts when biofuels are used to generate energy and CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in geological formations or in ecosystems.
The Upper Missouri River Basin refers to the Missouri River and all its tributaries upstream of Sioux City, Iowa. The basin contains parts or most of five states — Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska — and more than 20 Indian reservations. It represents 30 percent of the wheat produced in the United States, 13 percent of the soybeans, 11 percent of the cattle and 9 percent of the corn, according to the Upper Missouri River Basin Association. The region also contains the Colstrip power plant in eastern Montana — the second largest coal-fired generating facility west of the Mississippi — and the Bakken shale formation.
“This four-year grant is important to Montana,” said MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Renee Reijo Pera. “It will allow us to address fundamental questions in the energy sector and enables us to partner with our neighboring scientists in Wyoming and South Dakota. These grants are highly competitive and so we are proud of the accomplishments of our scientists.”
Thirty-one private, state and federal institutions and more than 50 people, including 18 MSU faculty and 13 MSU graduate students, will be involved in the project that will run into 2020, Stoy said. MSU will take the lead on research related to agriculture and biofertilizers, food security, clean energy, and water supply and quality. Researchers at USD will focus on land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services assessment. UW will take the lead on issues related to agricultural economics, economic modeling and land use. Importantly for the integrated award, all institutions will have the opportunity to collaborate on all aspects of the project.