Research Projects

Our research activities focus on technological, infrastructural, policy, and institutional innovations that foster sustainable FEWS in a changing world. These innovations will leverage our ability to use resources more efficiently, with less waste, and with governance structures in place to distribute authority and information in an equitable manner. CSU Faculty interested in mentoring InTERFEWS trainees can propose research topics here, and industry partners interested in proposing a project or idea can do so here.

The research topic areas and projects listed below serve multiple purposes: (1) To show research opportunities available to incoming InTERFEWS trainees; (2) To help match incoming trainees with mentors based on shared FEW research interests; (3) To highlight the types of FEW-related research being conducted at CSU; and (4) To serve as a tool to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among CSU faculty and students by highlighting FEW interests to form research teams. Incoming trainees do not necessarily need to join one of the projects listed below upon entrance into the InTERFEWS program. Incoming trainees may choose to develop their own FEW-related research project for their dissertation, create their own smaller project within one of those listed below that contributes to the larger project, etc. Current trainee research projects can be viewed on the Trainee webpage.

CURRENT PROJECT TOPIC AREAS

Topic Area A: Innovations at the Nexus of Food and Energy Systems

Food production systems are large consumers of energy and can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time waste is produced in food production and consumption systems from which valuable resources including energy and nutrients can be recovered. InTERFEWS trainees have the opportunity to engage in transdisciplinary research to advance energy efficiency of food production systems and explore approaches for resource recovery from agricultural and food wastes.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Allan Andales (Soil & Crop Sciences), Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Jim Ippolito (Soil & Crop Sciences), Jay Ham (Soils & Crop Sciences), Meagan Schipanski (Soil & Crop Sciences), Mark Uchanski (Horticulture & Landscape Architecture), Gene Kelly (Soil & Crop Sciences), Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences), Jordan Suter (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Francesca Cotrufo (Soil & Crop Sciences), Becca Jablonski (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Dana Hoag (Agriculture and Resource Economics).

College of Engineering: Steven Conrad (Systems Engineering), Thomas Bradley (Systems Engineering), Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering), Steven Simske (Systems Engineering), Ken Reardon (Chemical & Biological Engineering), José Chávez (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Shantanu Jathar (Mechanical Engineering), Emily Fischer (Atmospheric Science), Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Susan De Long (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Jeffrey Niemann (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Andrew Jones (Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere).

College of Natural Resources: Rich Conant (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability), Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences).

College of Natural Sciences: Hamidreza Chitsaz (Computer Science), Alan Knapp (Biology), Melinda Smith (Biology).

College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences: Colleen Duncan (Microbiology, Immunology & Pathology), Sheryl Magzamen (Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences), Ilana Pollack (Atmospheric Science).

CSU Extension: Wilma Trujillo (CSU Extension).

 

Research Projects

Project 2: Co-digestion Capacity Assessment and Optimization of Agricultural Feedstocks in Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems

Project 4: Thin-Film Photobioreactor System Fuel and Fertilizer Production

Project 5: Role of Irrigation Decision Support Systems in Water-Energy Conservation in Agricultural Systems

Project 6: Understanding Linkages between Energy, Air Quality, and Animal Health

Project 8: Land-Use Strategies to Accommodate Transfers of Agricultural Water Rights to Urban Users

Project 9: Anaerobic Treatment of Organic Wastes for Resource Recovery

Project 14: Integrating Solar Energy into Dryland Agriculture – Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

Project 15: Energy Intensity of Global Food Production and Water Use

Project 19: Robust Monitoring, Reporting and Verification for Soil Carbon Sequestration in Rangelands

Project 20: Distributive Versus Centralized Food Production Systems: Energy and Water Implications

Topic Area B: Water Efficiency for Food Production Systems

Technological, behavioral, and policy solutions are all viable options to increase efficiency of water use for food production. InTERFEWS researchers are conducting cutting edge research to improve water use efficiency for arid region food production systems.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Keith Paustian (Soil & Crop Sciences), Allan Andales (Soil & Crop Sciences), Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Meagan Schipanski (Soil & Crop Sciences), Maria Munoz-Amatriain (Soil & Crop Sciences), Mike Wilkins (Soil & Crop Sciences), Jerry Johnson (Soil & Crop Sciences), Thomas Borch (Soil & Crop Sciences), Jay Ham (Soils & Crop Sciences), Mark Uchanski (Horticulture & Landscape Architecture), Gene Kelly (Soil & Crop Sciences), Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences), Jordan Suter (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Jan Leach (Bioagricultural Sciences & Pest Management), Dale Manning (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Becca Jablonski (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Dana Hoag (Agriculture and Resource Economics).

College of Business: Scott Shrake (Institute for Entrepreneurship).

College of Engineering: Steven Conrad (Systems Engineering), Thomas Bradley (Systems Engineering), Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering), Steven Simske (Systems Engineering), Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering), José Chávez (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Todd Bandhauer (Mechanical Engineering), Tiezheng Tong (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Peter Nelson (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Russ Schumacher (Atmospheric Science), Jeffrey Niemann (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Andrew Jones (Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere), Karan Venayagamoorthy (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Timothy Gates (Civil & Environmental Engineering).

College of Health & Human Sciences: Kimberly Cox-York (Food Science and Human Nutrition).

College of Liberal Arts: Stephanie Malin (Sociology).

College of Natural Resources: Rich Conant (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability), Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences).

College of Natural Sciences: Hamidreza Chitsaz (Computer Science), Alan Knapp (Biology), Melinda Smith (Biology).

College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences: Elizabeth Ryan (Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences).

CSU Extension: Wilma Trujillo (CSU Extension).

Colorado School of Public Health: Molly Lamb (Epidemiology).

 

Research Projects

Project 2: Co-digestion Capacity Assessment and Optimization of Agricultural Feedstocks in Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems

Project 3: Assessing Links Between Social Environmental Justice Issues and FEWS in Semi-Arid Regions

Project 5: Role of Irrigation Decision Support Systems in Water-Energy Conservation in Agricultural Systems

Project 6: Understanding Linkages between Energy, Air Quality, and Animal Health

Project 8: Land-Use Strategies to Accommodate Transfers of Agricultural Water Rights to Urban Users

Project 11: The Cost of Water: Moving to Dry Cooling the Electrical Grid

Project 13: Cost-Effective On-Site Produced Water Treatment System for Agriculture Reuse in the Semi-Arid West

Project 14: Integrating Solar Energy into Dryland Agriculture – Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

Project 15: Energy Intensity of Global Food Production and Water Use

Project 16: Sustainable Development of Rice Bran at the Food-Energy-Water-Health Nexus

Project 17: Regenerative Agriculture as a Method to Build Ecosystem Resilience and Sequester Carbon in the Northern Great Plains Agricultural Region

Project 18: Modeling Feedbacks Between Irrigation Practices, Regional Climate, and Agricultural Productivity in Colorado and the Semi-Arid West

Project 20: Distributive Versus Centralized Food Production Systems: Energy and Water Implications

Project 21: Innovating Hydraulic Rating Structures for Improved Water Management in Semi-Arid Agricultural Systems

Topic Area C: FEW Resources in Urban Systems

FEW resource management in urban systems plays an important role to assure water and energy resource availability for rural food and energy production systems. InTERFEWS trainees can engage in research to develop and assess innovations for efficient use of FEW resources in urban areas.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Keith Paustian (Soil & Crop Sciences), Allan Andales (Soil & Crop Sciences), Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Jan Leach (Bioagricultural Sciences & Pest Management).

College of Engineering: Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Mazdak Arabi (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Thomas Bradley (Systems Engineering).

College of Health & Human Sciences: Kimberly Cox-York (Food Science and Human Nutrition).

College of Liberal Arts: Stephanie Malin (Sociology).

College of Natural Sciences: Hamidreza Chitsaz (Computer Science).

College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences: Elizabeth Ryan (Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences).

CSU Extension: Wilma Trujillo (CSU Extension).

Colorado School of Public Health: Molly Lamb (Epidemiology).

 

Research Projects

Project 1: Urban Water Efficiency for Resource Allocation in Semi-Arid Regions

Project 3: Assessing Links Between Social Environmental Justice Issues and FEWS in Semi-Arid Regions

Project 16: Sustainable Development of Rice Bran at the Food-Energy-Water-Health Nexus

Topic Area D: Water-Energy Nexus

The connections between water and energy are plentiful and diverse. Energy is used for water supply and delivery while water resources are also used  for energy production. Understanding the use of water for energy and use of energy for water is crucial to advance more efficient use of these resources. InTERFEWS researchers are exploring these connections and innovations for efficient resource management.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Allan Andales (Soil & Crop Sciences), Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Jay Ham (Soils & Crop Sciences), Meagan Schipanski (Soil & Crop Sciences), Mark Uchanski (Horticulture & Landscape Architecture), Gene Kelly (Soil & Crop Sciences), Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences), Jordan Suter (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Keith Paustian (Soil & Crop Sciences), Thomas Borch (Soil & Crop Sciences).

College of Business: Scott Shrake (Institute for Entrepreneurship).

College of Engineering: Steven Conrad (Systems Engineering), Thomas Bradley (Systems Engineering), Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering), Steven Simske (Systems Engineering), Ken Reardon (Chemical & Biological Engineering), José Chávez (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Todd Bandhauer (Mechanical Engineering), Tiezheng Tong (Civil & Environmental Engineering), 

College of Liberal Arts: Stephanie Malin (Sociology).

College of Natural Resources: Rich Conant (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability), Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences).

College of Natural Sciences: Hamidreza Chitsaz (Computer Science), Alan Knapp (Biology), Melinda Smith (Biology).

CSU Extension: Wilma Trujillo (CSU Extension).

 

Research Projects

Project 2: Co-digestion Capacity Assessment and Optimization of Agricultural Feedstocks in Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems

Project 3: Assessing Links Between Social Environmental Justice Issues and FEWS in Semi-Arid Regions

Project 4: Thin-Film Photobioreactor System Fuel and Fertilizer Production

Project 5: Role of Irrigation Decision Support Systems in Water-Energy Conservation in Agricultural Systems

Project 11: The Cost of Water: Moving to Dry Cooling the Electrical Grid

Project 13: Cost-Effective On-Site Produced Water Treatment System for Agriculture Reuse in the Semi-Arid West

Project 14: Integrating Solar Energy into Dryland Agriculture – Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

Project 15: Energy Intensity of Global Food Production and Water Use

Topic Area E: Forest Fire Impacts on FEWS

Forest fires have become both more frequent and intense in the recent years. Forest fires have numerous ecosystem impacts. InTERFEWS trainees have the opportunity to engage in research to better understand impacts of forest fires on FEW resources and assess technological and policy solutions to overcome negative impacts.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Thomas Borch (Soil & Crop Sciences), Mike Wilkins (Soil & Crop Sciences), Patty Champ (Agricultural & Resource Economics; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station), Travis Warziniack (Agricultural & Resource Economics; Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station).

College of Natural Resources: Tim Covino (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability), Chuck Rhoades (Soil & Crop Sciences; Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station), Travis Warziniack (Agricultural & Resource Economics; Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station).

 

Research Projects

Project 7: Forest Fire Impacts on Headwater Quality in the Rocky Mountains

Topic Area F: Economic Assessment of FEWS

Technological and policy solutions to enhance FEW resource management are widely studied in the InTERFEWS program. However, for these solutions to be implemented, tradeoffs between costs and benefits must be assessed. A key component to InTERFEWS research projects is to assess economic considerations.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Keith Paustian (Soil & Crop Sciences), Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Jordan Suter (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Dale Manning (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Becca Jablonski (Agricultural & Resource Economics), Francesca Cotrufo (Soil & Crop Sciences), Dana Hoag (Agriculture and Resource Economics).

College of Natural Resources: Tim Covino (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability), Travis Warziniack (Agricultural & Resource Economics; Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station).

 

Research Projects

Project 1: Urban Water Efficiency for Resource Allocation in Semi-Arid Regions

Project 2: Co-digestion Capacity Assessment and Optimization of Agricultural Feedstocks in Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems

Project 4: Thin-Film Photobioreactor System Fuel and Fertilizer Production

Project 6: Understanding Linkages between Energy, Air Quality, and Animal Health

Project 10: Sustainable Household Energy Adoption in Rwanda (SHEAR): Promoting Rural Health with Solar and Natural Gas

Project 11: The Cost of Water: Moving to Dry Cooling the Electrical Grid

Project 12: Evaluation of Cowpea Germplasm as a Fallow Replacement in Colorado Dryland Cropping Systems

Project 13: Cost-Effective On-Site Produced Water Treatment System for Agriculture Reuse in the Semi-Arid West

Project 14: Integrating Solar Energy into Dryland Agriculture – Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

Project 15: Energy Intensity of Global Food Production and Water Use

Project 16: Sustainable Development of Rice Bran at the Food-Energy-Water-Health Nexus

Project 17: Regenerative Agriculture as a Method to Build Ecosystem Resilience and Sequester Carbon in the Northern Great Plains Agricultural Region

Project 18: Modeling Feedbacks Between Irrigation Practices, Regional Climate, and Agricultural Productivity in Colorado and the Semi-Arid West

Project 19: Robust Monitoring, Reporting and Verification for Soil Carbon Sequestration in Rangelands

Project 21: Innovating Hydraulic Rating Structures for Improved Water Management in Semi-Arid Agricultural Systems

Topic Area G: Social Environmental Justice & Policy Considerations for FEWS

FEW resource management is inherently entangled with complex social environmental justice and policy considerations. InTERFEWS trainees have the opportunity to use multiple qualitative methods and community-based participatory fieldwork to investigate intersecting relationships between FEW resource allocation, policy, and social environmental justice.

 

Potential Mentors

College of Ag Sciences: Becca Jablonski (Agricultural & Resource Economics).

College of Liberal Arts: Stephanie Malin (Sociology), Heidi Hausermann (Anthropology & Geography), Michele Betsill (Political Science).

College of Natural Sciences: Patricia A. Aloise-Young (Psychology).

 

Research Projects

Project 3: Assessing Links Between Social Environmental Justice Issues and FEWS in Semi-Arid Regions

CURRENT PROJECT OPPORTUNITIES

Project 1: Urban Water Efficiency for Resource Allocation in Semi-Arid Regions

Municipalities respond to increasing demand for water via infrastructure investments or acquisition of water rights from other sectors. This results in permanent dry-up of historically irrigated land and the inequitable reduction in economic activity in rural economies. Water demands for oil and gas production further intensifies pressures on local water supply for food production. However, innovations in urban water conservation and reuse provide solutions to enhance water supply reliability under population and climate uncertainty. A trainee will develop urban water technologies that provide cross-sectoral benefits (and co-benefits) for FEWS. These technologies facilitate water sensitive urban design via use of stormwater, treated wastewater and graywater, water conserving fixtures, xeriscaping and urban irrigation efficiency.

Multi-objective optimization will be used to identify pareto optimal frontiers when balancing short-term profitability and long-term resilience of water resources. Scenarios to be assessed include: 1) Policies to promote urban water conservation and reuse; 2) Urban growth control and land development policy; 3) Municipal purchase of agricultural water rights, alternative water transfers; and 4) Policies to limit fossil-fuel energy production and accelerate renewable energy portfolio.

Advisors

  • Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Mazdak Arabi (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Stephanie Malin (Sociology)
  • Thomas Bradley (Mechanical Engineering)

Interdisciplinary Aspects

Trainees will gain knowledge and skills to develop models to assess tradeoffs. Economics, policy and social sciences are deeply embedded in this project.

Systems Perspective

This project includes systems level analysis of impacts of urban water efficiency including assessment of cross-sectoral benefits to broadly assess FEWS impacts and co-benefits.

 

Project 2: Co-digestion Capacity Assessment and Optimization of Agricultural Feedstocks in Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems

Biogas and electricity generation in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) suffers from lack of investment. Only 2% of the ~14,500 WWTP in the US capture and utilize biogas. When evaluated solely on economics the typical return is below conventional energy supply due to low organics concentration in wastewater flows. Co-digestion, adding supplemental organic material, improves the economic and technical viability of WWTP bioenergy projects considerably. Wastewater system managers could use regional agricultural feedstocks as sources of organic material to enhance yields. This potential is increasingly recognized, yet there is limited “integrated” knowledge on capacity and processes and scant systemic support for broad scale agricultural feedstock routing to WWTP. To address this need we aim to assess performance and decision/behavioral influences of agricultural feedstock-enhanced co-digestion biogas and electricity generation in WWTP in Colorado through coupled agent-based system dynamics modelling, participatory processes, and decision visualization.

We are looking for 1-2 PhD students to support research across three efforts. 1) framework development: A) system definition through agricultural/wastewater/energy stakeholder interviews and workshops, B) data collection (wastewater processes and farm-level crop production and marketing decisions), and C) model parametrization of core processing operations (Biomass Production, Distribution, Processing, Conversion, and Use) across integrated interfaces (economics, policy, energy, wastewater, farm-level production); 2) assessment and process optimization on the overall efficacy of crop residues and oil feedstocks supply to WWTP addressed through: A) sensitivity analysis, B) multi-objective evolutionary algorithm optimization, C) techno-economic assessment, D) agent-based modelling, and E) scenario analysis; 3) decision analysis and support through participatory processes and a decision visualization workshop – providing water, energy, and agricultural sector stakeholders opportunity to visualize the feedforward and feedback effects between interconnect systems and how key decisions/policies affect the interaction of feedstocks to WWTP, biogas production, and farm management.

Advisors

  • Steven Conrad (Systems Engineering)
  • Thomas Bradley (Systems Engineering)
  • Brian Hurd (Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, New Mexico State University)
  • Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Steven Simske (Systems Engineering)

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This study leverages active research programs at the nexus of the fields of bioenergy systems, techno-economic analysis, social sciences (policy, decision analysis, participatory processes, farmer behavior modelling), agro-economics, and water/energy/agricultural systems engineering and management.

Systems Perspective

This study addresses the lack of a common evaluation framework for integrated technical, economic, and policy solutions between water, energy, and agricultural sectors. It applies a systems perspective to the linkages between the agricultural feedstock supply system, wastewater management, and policy/economic incentives to promote renewable energy.

Project 3: Assessing Links Between Social Environmental Justice Issues and FEWS in Semi-Arid Regions

Colorado has seen quadrupled rates of oil extraction since 2010 and natural gas extraction has increased 51% since 2010 (EIA, 2017), due in part to technologies such as hydraulic fracturing. This can create dual natural resource dependencies that manifest as environmental injustices at the household, organizational, and community levels. This project assesses the social environmental justice issues associated with FEWS at the rural-urban interface in semi-arid regions, arising from rapid urbanization and energy development. In this project, a trainee will use multiple qualitative methods and community-based participatory fieldwork to investigate intersecting relationships between FEW resource allocation and social environmental justice. Students pursuing this project will be able to envision and lead their own aspect of the project and will be encouraged to identify their own niche and fieldwork opportunities.

Advisors

  • Stephanie Malin (Sociology)

  • Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

  • Keith Paustian (Soil & Crop Sciences)

  • Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering)

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This project brings together perspectives and methods from environmental and natural resource sociology, environmental health, political science (governance), water law, and environmental justice. In addition, a trainee will develop community-based research skills.

Systems Perspective

Drivers such as urbanization and population growth, increasing water-intensive unconventional oil and gas production, industrialized agricultural practices, and increasing urban growth create pressures on FEWS resources. Environmental inequities as well as economic impacts will be assessed.

Project 4: Thin-Film Photobioreactor System Fuel and Fertilizer Production

The production of liquid fuels from biomass is a case study in FEW nexus issues. Biofuels have a lower greenhouse gas footprint than fossil fuels, and biomass production removes CO2 from the atmosphere. However, biofuel production from terrestrial plant biomass consumes large amounts of water and nutrients, and thus competes for those resources with food production. While semi-arid locations have abundant sunlight, the competition for fresh water is a significant concern. The use of algae and cyanobacteria to produce biofuels has been the focus of research for several decades and has largely been directed to capitalize on the ability of algae to accumulate high levels of lipids. Phototrophic microorganisms can grow much more rapidly than plants; can thrive in fresh, brackish, or saline water; and can be grown on land that would be unusable for plant crops. But because cell concentrations are low, large amounts of energy are required to move water and culture, and to recover products.

The goals of this project are to develop novel thin-film photobioreactor (TFPB) systems for production of fuel and ammonia by cyanobacteria from carbon dioxide, atmospheric nitrogen, and sunlight, and to assess the resource benefits and economic impacts of these systems. The cultivation approach unique to this technology will result in greatly reduced consumption of nutrients and energy, as well as lower water losses. In addition, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria can be engineered to release ammonia, providing a means of producing this key fertilizer with far less energy than the widely used Haber-Bosch process.

Advisors

  • Ken Reardon (Chemical & Biological Engineering)

  • Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering)

  • Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Interdisciplinary Aspects

The project blends biology, engineering, and economics to develop a new technology and assess systems level benefits of the technology.

Systems Perspective

Resource and economic modeling will be used to evaluate the impact of the TFPB technology on the nutrient, water, and energy.

 

Project 5: Role of Irrigation Decision Support Systems in Water-Energy Conservation in Agricultural Systems

There are many different schemes currently used by producers to decide when and how much to irrigate agricultural crops in Colorado. However, their comparative efficacy regarding water and energy conservation, while sustaining crop yields and economic viability, is not well understood. To assess the actual socio-economic effects of adoption of different agricultural irrigation decision-making protocols will be beneficial to society. Given the emergence of alternative transfer methods that provide revenue for temporary water lease arrangements we expect that producers and policymakers will increasingly seek out this type of information. Therefore, it will be benefitcial to society to assess the actual and potential socio-economic determinants and effects of adoption and diffusion of different agricultural irrigation decision-making protocols.

The vast range of irrigation scheduling alternatives can have an inherent repercussion on seasonal amounts of water use, energy consumption, fertilizer use efficiency, irrigation efficiencies, environmental impacts (e.g., salinization, water table/stream contamination), soil erosion/waterlogging, crop growth, yields, and farm revenue. There is a need to assess the level of adoption and diffusion of the different irrigation scheduling techniques, along with their associated socio-economic impacts, and to develop a mechanism to educate stakeholders and provide them with a tool to help decide what irrigation scheduling system to use and how to implement a suggested irrigation scheduling strategy. Irrigation decisions will be linked to water/energy consumption, crop yield response, farm revenue and farmers’ socioeconomic changes/status. In terms of socioeconomic aspects, the irrigation water management level attained through a given adoption of an irrigation scheduling approach will result in a given energy power consumption and corresponding revenues. Thus, irrigation decisions will be linked to water/energy consumption (conservation), crop yield response, farm revenue and farmers’ socioeconomic changes/status.

The trainee role would be to: a) survey farmers for current methods employed to decide on irrigation scheduling in Colorado and assess the level of economic impact of adopted methods; b) apply an array of irrigation decision support methods and evaluate irrigation systems efficiencies, water and energy use, and related crop yield and economic response; and c) develop an integrated (decision support) system to advise farmers on best management practices to optimize water and energy use to enhance or sustain agricultural production for specific farm, environmental conditions; while considering water, energy, agricultural input costs and produce market prices.

Advisors

  • José Chávez (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Allan Andales (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

This project aims to understand the interdependence of irrigation decisions (for different irrigation methods) with farm energy consumption, crop yield, and corresponding economic and resource effects.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This project integrates water engineering, agronomy, power consumption and socio-economics (skills).

Project 6: Understanding Linkages between Energy, Air Quality, and Animal Health

Air quality, driven by increases in energy production and use, has been deteriorating in the western United States. Poor air quality has been associated consistently with adverse health outcomes for human populations, specifically with inflammatory pathways in a number of organ systems. Given shared physiology among mammalian species, poor air quality is likely to affect mortality and morbidity for livestock within the animal husbandry industry. However, there are large uncertainties in how poor air quality imposes a health burden on livestock (as with humans) and an economic burden on the food industry.

In this project, we will leverage models and measurements to understand the (i) source contributions, including those from energy production, to ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution and (ii) the health and economic impacts of O3 and PM2.5 exposure on livestock. We will initially focus this study on the Colorado Front Range primarily because this region is home to both a large animal food and energy industry and has an air quality problem linked to ozone pollution, in addition to existing relationships our team has with animal producers. Specifically, we will undertake field measurements at select dairy cattle farms in the Front Range to understand the seasonal and annual exposure to O3 and PM and later extend this to beef cattle and small ruminant production systems. These networked measurements will be enabled by recently developed technologies at Colorado State University. We will perform simulations with a state-of-the-art chemical transport model, predictions from which will be evaluated against the gathered measurements and extended to understand the O3 and PM exposure for livestock over the entire Front Range. Finally, we will translate the pollutant exposures to economic costs that relate to loss in agricultural productivity. Through CSU’s Agricultural Extension Offices, we will have the opportunity to translate findings to producers in the region. Energy production and use, through its impacts on air quality, has adverse impacts on food production and this project attempts to understand that linkage better.

Advisors

  • Shantanu Jathar (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Colleen Duncan (Microbiology, Immunology & Pathology)
  • Emily Fischer (Atmospheric Science)
  • Sheryl Magzamen (Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences)
  • Ilana Pollack (Atmospheric Science)

Systems Perspective

Agriculture is dependent on access to energy but energy use through its impacts on air quality can adversely affect animal health and agricultural productivity. This project aims to better understand these systems-level interactions between energy use and animal health.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This interdisciplinary project brings together expertise in low-cost sensors, atmospheric chemistry, epidemiology, animal science, and economics to understand the linkages between energy use, air quality, and animal health.

Project 7: Forest Fire Impacts on Headwater Quality in the Rocky Mountains

Forests are well known for providing sources of energy and clean water as well as helping agricultural production through soil protection and water provision. However, the frequency and severity of forest fires has increased in recent decades, creating a heavy social and economic burden on millions of people across the United States. These forests provide valuable ecosystem services such as drinking water provision, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention, and climate change mitigation estimated at trillions of dollars a year. However, from 2008-2017 the estimated losses due to wildfires was roughly $20 billion, not including the loss of these services. The 2018 Colorado wildfires resulted in one of the worst years in history and fires such as the 2016 Beaver Creek Fire and 2018 Ryan Fire in northern Colorado have disturbed and contaminated sensitive headwater ecosystems. This catchment receives atmospherically deposited mercury originating from upwind coal-fired power plants that accumulates in forest soils and vegetation and is re-mobilized following fire events. This pool of mercury (Hg) can be transported into surface waters and sediments, and thus pose risk to ecosystems, agriculture and human health.

The major goal of this project is to develop a fundamental understanding of how forest fires impact microbial, chemical and physical processes that control transport of nutrients (N and P), toxic metals (Hg), sediment and organic carbon into headwater streams. In this project, students will compare sites burned during the Ryan Fire with unburned control sites. Advanced chemical analysis and metagenomics will be used to generate new knowledge on feedback and hydro-biogeochemical cycles in burned forested watersheds. Watershed hydrology and sediment flow models will be developed for application of other fire-impacted sites and results will be used to inform land restoration and water quality management decisions. Students will be exposed to ecosystem services valuation approaches needed to determine how wildfires influence the value of water delivered from forest watersheds. Additionally, project involvement with management agencies and local and regional stakeholders will promote understanding of the links between forest conditions and water supply and help guide decisions about how to sustain high elevation watersheds.

Advisors

  • Thomas Borch (Soil & Crop Sciences)

  • Mike Wilkins (Soil & Crop Sciences)

  • Tim Covino (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability)

  • Chuck Rhoades (Soil & Crop Sciences; Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station)

  • Travis Warziniack (Agricultural & Resource Economics; Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station)

  • Patty Champ (Agricultural & Resource Economics; US Forest Service, Rock Mountain Research Station)

Systems Perspective

This project includes systems level analysis of forest fire impacts on soil health and headwater quality in order to provide information critical for improving and sustaining food-energy-water systems in semi-arid regions.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This project integrates soil chemistry, hydrology, microbiology, forest ecosystem ecology, ecosystem services valuation and socioeconomic approaches to help understand the consequences of forest fires on watershed conditions and water quality in semi-arid regions. Close collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, farmers, and water managers plays an integral role in this project.

Project 8: Land-Use Strategies to Accommodate Transfers of Agricultural Water Rights to Urban Users

Population growth in Colorado is expected to increase urban water demands in the coming years. The Colorado Water Plan identifies water transfers as a key strategy to meet these demands, which may require shifting substantial irrigated farmland to limited-irrigation or rain-fed management or prairie grasslands. Losses in agricultural productivity will depend on how the transformation is accomplished. This project will develop strategies to guide this land-use transformation and preserve the overall economic productivity of Colorado’s agricultural sector.

A soil’s propensity towards dry conditions is a key determinant for successful farming without full irrigation. In this project, we will develop a detailed understanding of soil moisture climatology in a representative region by downscaling a long-term root-zone soil moisture dataset that has been developed based on satellite remote sensing. The downscaled soil moisture estimates will be evaluated by comparing to measurements from ground-based soil moisture sensors. The soil moisture maps will then be used to analyze the timing, frequency, and persistence of drought conditions for different soil types and landscape positions. The soil moisture maps will then be combined with land/water use strategies and meteorological data to drive a spatial model for crop growth and yield. Different land and water use strategies will be compared for their ability to achieve desired levels of water savings, their expected economic benefit, and their ecosystems services. A similar methodology could eventually be applied to other regions to study the expansion of agricultural lands to meet rising food demands associated with population growth.

Advisors

  • Jeffrey Niemann (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Timothy Green (USDA Agricultural Research Service)
  • Dana Hoag (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Andrew Jones (Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere)

Systems Perspective

The project examines coupled water, soil and agricultural systems in a semiarid environment under the stressor of population growth. It is highly relevant to the food-energy-water nexus as it considers the efficient use of land to enhance crop productivity (for food or biofuel production) given a limited amount of water where water markets are emerging.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

The project will integrate data and models from multiple disciplines including: satellite remote-sensing from atmospheric science, downscaling modeling from surface hydrology, crop-productivity modeling from agricultural systems engineering, and economic analysis from agricultural and resource economics.

Project 9: Anaerobic Treatment of Organic Wastes for Resource Recovery

Organic waste material such as municipal fraction organic waste (e.g. food waste and yard waste), food processing wastewater, and manure from animal feeding operations can be treated anaerobically to generate methane or organic acids. Organic acids can be converted into high value products such as fuel or plastics. At the same time, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can be recovered from the waste material to further enhance resource recovery. Little is understood about the systems level impacts of recovering methane versus more financially valuable organic acids. Uncertainty in whether to focus technology development on methane or organic acid production is currently inhibiting advancement in the field. Further, tradeoffs exist between generation of different products from organic waste material. For example, maximizing nitrogen recovery can alter pH in a way that is inhibitory for methane production. A trainee will develop resource recovery technologies for FEWS and assess tradeoffs between recovery of different products. Technologies and processes will be developed to enhance resource recovery from organic wastes, while also understanding systems level considerations of those technologies. This research can inform high level policy decisions that impact research and development of anaerobic technology for resource recovery.

Advisors

  • Sybil Sharvelle (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Thomas Bradley (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Susan De Long (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Jim Ippolito (Soil & Crop Sciences)

Systems Perspective

This project includes systems level analysis of impacts of resource recovery products from organic waste material to broadly assess FEWS impacts and carbon footprint.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

Trainees will gain knowledge not only on technology development, but also skills to develop models to assess tradeoffs. Economics and policy are deeply embedded in this project.

Project 10: Sustainable Household Energy Adoption in Rwanda (SHEAR): Promoting Rural Health with Solar and Natural Gas

Exposure to pollution from the use of traditional energy sources is a top-ten risk factor for morbidity and mortality worldwide. Emissions from traditional energy sources in the home create unhealthy levels of pollution and the issue is pervasive. Approximately 3 billion people rely on fuels like wood, charcoal, and kerosene to support needs such as cooking food, heating, and lighting. Approximately 80% of the population in Rwanda uses such fuels, making environmental pollution exposure to the 3rd leading contributor to the burden of disease in this country.

Nearly 50 years of research on ‘cleaner’ household energy technologies has demonstrated only modest global impact, due to a combination of economic, cultural, and technologic barriers that prevent access to and usage of clean energy. A further limitation is that nearly all household energy interventions, to date, have focused on replacing only a single energy source (i.e., replacing just cooking, or just lighting) with a more modern technology.

We propose to address these issues by conducting a randomized controlled trial that (1) focuses on total household energy (2) in a country that evinces readiness for alternative forms of energy, (3) by forming a public-private partnership to promote technological solutions that are consumer-focused and market sustainable, (4) by investigating outcome measures that are clinically actionable and strongly linked to morbidity/mortality, and (5) by developing project outputs that can inform policymakers with cost-benefit information.

We hypothesize that a whole-house energy intervention (replacing all primitive forms of energy within the home with cleaner, modern forms) will produce meaningful reductions in pollution and health benefits in rural Rwandan homes. The randomized controlled trial will substitute traditional forms of household energy (biomass for cooking and kerosene for lighting) with solar power and liquefied petroleum gas stoves in rural Rwanda. Participants will be followed for 3 years with repeated measurements of household pollution exposure, energy usage, and health. Primary health endpoints will include blood pressure in adult women and men and lung-function growth in children; secondary health endpoints include blood pressure in children and lung-function change in adults.

The long-term goals of this research are to increase the clinical knowledge-base on the health effects on household air pollution, to demonstrate that a whole-house energy intervention will produce meaningful household air pollution reductions and health benefits in rural Rwandan homes, to elucidate the relationship between fuel subsidy levels and household air pollution exposure, and to demonstrate that scalable solutions to the household air pollution disease burden are achievable via public-private-governmental partnerships.

Advisors

  • John Volckens (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Maggie Clark (Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences)
  • Dale Manning (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Dan Zimmerle (Energy Institute & Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center)

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This project represents a multi-PI effort (Volckens, Clark) that spans four CSU entities (WSCoE, CVMBS, CoA, Energy Institute) with contributions from faculty in engineering (John Volckens), public health (Maggie Clark), energy systems (Dan Zimmerle), and resource economics (Dale Manning). The student working on this project will contribute to field work in Rwanda to include survey administration, exposure and health assessment, energy technology delivery, and complex, hierarchical data analyses.

Systems Perspective

This research is designed to examine the home as an energy delivery system, with particular emphasis on the beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors of the home occupants, and how the use of modern energy technologies (primarily for food and light), can promote both the health and welfare of the home occupants.

Project 11: The Cost of Water: Moving to Dry Cooling the Electrical Grid

Power production currently consumes the largest amount of fresh water in the US, 41.3%. This represents a huge opportunity for water reduction as the electrical grid moving forward is expected to go through dramatic changes as the result of vehicle electrification, aging infrastructure and technology development. While the grid is expected to be dominated by renewable energy in the future, a large fraction is expected to be still be generated from thermoelectric which is a major water consumer. While dry cooling of thermal systems has been demonstrated it has not been adopted. This project will investigate the “cost of water.” The work will include understanding the current and future grid combined with the cost of dry cooling technology to understand what it takes to move from wet cooling to dry in thermal power systems. Geographically specific modeling will combine location specific power production with meteorological conditions and water resource availability all integrated into life cycle environmental and cost modeling. The work will include the development of stochastic modeling coupled with multi-objective optimization to understand the impacts of water resource and technology on the integration of dry cooling in thermal power production.

Advisors

  • Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Todd Bandhauer (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Thomas Bradley (Systems Engineering)

Systems Perspective

The project at the core requires systems level thinking.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

The proposed work includes the coupling of skill sets from economics, mechanical engineering, and systems engineering. The geographical diverse modeling and resource assessment pulls in an added dimension.

Project 12: Evaluation of Cowpea Germplasm as a Fallow Replacement in Colorado Dryland Cropping Systems

There is a need for water-efficient alternative crops in dryland cropping systems in the Central Great Plains that can make climate-smart agriculture profitable for farmers. In particular, identifying crops that could replace the summer fallow that precedes winter wheat would have a huge environmental and economic impact: it would intensify crop production and give farmers an additional cash crop while also improving environmental quality by reducing erosion potential and improving precipitation-use efficiency, carbon and nitrogen availability. Finding such crops has proven difficult due to the lack of existing alternatives that fit into the rotation system and leave enough soil moisture for successful production of the subsequent winter wheat.

The goal of this project is to evaluate diverse germplasm of cowpea as a fallow replacement crop. Cowpea, also known in the U.S. as black-eyed pea or southern pea, is an African warm-season legume that is well adapted to the drought and poor soil conditions prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. The trainee will evaluate the effects of cowpea genotypes relative to fallow on soil nitrogen, moisture and microbiome composition, and on the yield and quality of wheat varieties planted after the cowpea genotype trial. Furthermore, a comparative economic analysis of wheat-fallow and wheat-cowpea cropping rotations will be conducted to assess the potential effects on profitability. These results will provide critical insights into the selection of cowpea varieties with high potential to improve sustainability and profitability of wheat-based dryland cropping systems in Colorado. Also, results from this project will foster cutting edge original research on the impact of cowpea genotypes on rhizosphere microbiome composition and soil health in dryland systems.

Advisors

  • Maria Munoz-Amatriain (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Meagan Schipanski (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Mike Wilkins (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Jerry Johnson (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Daniel Mooney (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

This project will use a systems approach to understand and exploit the linkages between water, soil composition, and biodiversity. The effect of diverse cowpea genotypes on changes in soil moisture, nitrogen availability, profitability and in the composition of soil microbial communities will be studied and associated with subsequent wheat yields and wheat quality.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This project will combine diverse expertise to address questions associated with crop genetics, agronomy, soil quality, microbiome response, and economic viability.

Project 13: Cost-Effective On-Site Produced Water Treatment System for Agriculture Reuse in the Semi-Arid West

Hydraulic fracturing is one of the most common practices in today’s oil and gas industry and has greatly increased the U.S. natural gas production. However, one negative impact from the process is the large quantities of contaminated produced water which require treatment and disposal. The most common industry practice for water disposal is deep well injection which has adverse environment impacts (i.e., inducing earthquakes and contaminating subsurface aquifer), and does not have any beneficial reuse of produced water. Many stakeholders are actively seeking technologies that enable beneficial reuse while maintaining a low cost similar to deep well injection. One potential option is to develop a low cost high recovery treatment train which is powered by abundant on-site energy and can allow for beneficial reuse of produced water via crop irrigation.

The team is looking for a student to facilitate design, analysis, construct, and experimental validation of a treatment train for produced water from well sites in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. There are currently no regulations regarding produced water reuse for agricultural irrigation, so one important factor in this study will be the greenhouse trials that will analyze key factors such as plant yield, health, immune response, and the effects on soil micro biome. The trials will truly determine the viability of the proposed treatment train with respect to agricultural irrigation. In parallel, the team will conduct techno economic analysis on a full scale system to assess feasibility of commercial development. Preliminary techno economic analysis has shown treatment costs as low as 1.13 $/bbl, which is on par with deep well injection. However, these promising results will require further analysis, and other economical pathways – including local water transport to nearby wells – will be evaluated.

Advisors

  • Todd Bandhauer (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Tiezheng Tong (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Thomas Borch (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Scott Shrake (Institute for Entrepreneurship)

Systems Perspective

Prior work by many teams have focused solely on water treatment. The approach here will be to look at the entire fresh and produced water use and delivery system to determine the optimal configuration that realizes the most optimal economic solution that does not adversely impact the environment.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

Several different disciplines will be integrated in this project, including economic analysis, thermal energy systems, plant sciences, and policy.

Project 14: Integrating Solar Energy into Dryland Agriculture – Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

In low rainfall regions of the world, water, not land, is the resource most limiting agricultural production making precipitation management key to sustainable dryland agriculture. In contrast, solar energy generation, a renewable energy source that is most efficient in low rainfall regions, is land-use intensive. The substantial land requirement for solar energy combined with the “water not land” limitation of dryland agriculture can be synergized by using the area occupied by solar panels to harvest and redistribute rainfall – resulting in increased yields. Rainfall redistribution in dryland agriculture has the potential to permit growth of higher value crops which, when combined with reliable income from solar energy generation, reduces economic risk for land-owners, and rural dependency on fossil fuels. While this novel agro-energy approach is conceptually appealing, there are many challenges to overcome. These include:

  1. Understanding how rainfall redistribution from the co-location of solar panels with crops will alter soil moisture patterns, plant water relations and water use efficiency, plant growth and yield;
  2. Designing an efficient, low cost water collection and redistribution system utilizing commercially available solar panels;
  3. Conducting plant growth simulation modeling and/or economic analyses that integrated crop yield and energy production to assess the trade-offs associated with a range of solar panel-crop configurations.

This research project will lay the ground work for a new agro-energy paradigm in semi-arid regions – based on the principle that increasing both water-use-efficiency and the diversity of how solar energy is harvested, via both plants and photo-voltaic cells, can increase total yield (calories harvested as food/forage and energy) and the economic well-being of land owners.

Advisors

  • Alan Knapp (Biology)
  • Christopher Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Allan Andales (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Jay Ham (Soils & Crop Sciences)
  • Meagan Schipanski (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Mark Uchanski (Horticulture & Landscape Architecture)
  • Gene Kelly (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Melinda Smith (Biology)

Systems Perspective

In order to conduct the feasibility and design optimization assessments needed for advancing the science of agrivoltaics, a systems perspective that integrates research in water use, crop/forage growth, energy production, economic feasibility, and environmental sustainability is required.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

To move this agro-energy (also known as Agrivoltaics) approach from concept to practice will require a team that includes a wide range of disciplinary skills and perspectives. The project would enable a graduate student to gain some expertise in plant growth (biology), engineering and design, renewable energy, economics and modeling.

Project 15: Energy Intensity of Global Food Production and Water Use

It is clear that agronomic efficiency – measured by yield (efficiency of land use), nutrient recovery efficiency, greenhouse gas intensity, field-level water use efficiency, etc. – is greater for the developed world than for the developing world. Yet these efficiency gains come at the cost of increased energy inputs. Past global efforts to synthesize data on nutrient use efficiencies revealed how agricultural development has unfolded and what the future might hold. The overall goal of this project is to do the same for energy, with an emphasis on the energy requirements for irrigation.

The first step of this work has been to assemble data on energy use in agriculture (available on a per-country basis over time). Next country-level energy use data will be allocated to specific agricultural activities that require energy, including vehicle (tractor) miles for field operations, water pumping, buildings, harvest and storage, transportation, etc. The approach will apply Bayesian modeling framework like that used to allocate N fertilizer to different crops. The ultimate result will be a complete database on energy use by crop, by country, by year that can be used to assess patterns and trends in energy consumption associated with food production. Coupled with earlier analyses, this energy analysis will advance understanding of the full greenhouse gas impacts of changes in food production systems over time. The extent and type of irrigation infrastructure (surface water vs. groundwater) is critical for determining total energy use. National-scale data compiled by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s AQUASTAT database will be used, as well as global syntheses of subnational census and survey data, to obtain analyze trends in irrigation use by country and by crop. These data will allow analysis of how the overall energy footprint of food production is determined by variations in water management, climate, and crop choice.

Advisors

  • Rich Conant (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability)
  • Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability; Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Jordan Suter (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

This project expands beyond our previous global synthesis work on N and N2O by adopting a broader systems perspective.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

Global syntheses can provide powerful insight, but often require making assumptions and estimates in order to accurately extrapolate from limited data. As a result, this project requires informed expertise from a variety of disciplines, including agronomy, animal science, agricultural engineers, and irrigation experts. As the assembled fertilizer databases have informed policy and economic decisions, the database resulting from this work offer opportunities for deep collaboration with the policy-makers and economists.

Project 16: Sustainable Development of Rice Bran at the Food-Energy-Water-Health Nexus

White rice feeds nearly half of humanity as a staple food, and the associated agricultural practices, inputs and co-products of rice-based food systems merit attention for impacts on climate, water, energy and food security. Sustainable rice bran product development innovations at the food-energy-water nexus started 10 years ago with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to support biomedical, animal and human studies. Compelling findings from those studies for this food waste to have health properties have led to the current research opportunity that lies in various stages of development across the following countries (i.e. Guatemala, Mali, Nicaragua, India, Kenya, Cambodia, Nepal, France and Brazil). This project focuses on vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and children that are facing food and water insecurity coupled with chronic diarrhoea and poor health outcomes. Diarrhoea caused by unsafe drinking water results in nutrient malabsorption, which is a public health problem needing practical solutions in accordance with achieving sustainable development goals.

Ryan and colleagues embrace an interdisciplinary, multi-sectoral research network approach to advance the development of rice bran as this is the world’s largest agricultural byproduct, and used as animal feed or wasted. This project will develop rice bran as an ingredient with social, sustainable enterprise opportunities across the supply chain. We will create and test heat-stabilization technologies, implement food and water safety testing protocols in local laboratories, and prototype a distribution plan for target product use in infant weaning and maternal-child feeding programs. Many countries face water scarcity, and a tremendous amount of water resources are directed towards rice crop production in irrigated and flood plain agricultural systems. Some areas have already begun integrating aquaculture into rice paddies as rice-fish co-production systems, yet impacts of agrochemicals, heavy metals and pesticides remain a concern alongside the need for standardized testing. Importantly, this project will further the post-harvest output and provide substantial value addition to the rice crop. The research infrastructure for this project spans agricultural rice production and post-harvest practices, food engineering and technologies, as well as health systems at the rural-urban interface.

Advisors

  • Elizabeth Ryan (Environmental & Radiological Health Sciences)
  • Kimberly Cox-York (Food Science and Human Nutrition)
  • Jan Leach (Bioagricultural Sciences & Pest Management)
  • Molly Lamb (Epidemiology)

Systems Perspective

This project integrates complex elements of the rice agro-ecosystem and targets populations that strive to operate with environmental sustainability when increasing food security and seeking to reduce food waste.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This innovative approach to develop rice bran within the broader context of food-energy-water nexus issues is possible via the global co-training of students in highly engaged faculty teams from agriculture, engineering, public health and biomedical sciences.

Project 17: Regenerative Agriculture as a Method to Build Ecosystem Resilience and Sequester Carbon in the Northern Great Plains Agricultural Region

The project will evaluate the impacts of regenerative agricultural management practices on climate resilience, soil carbon sequestration and soil health metrics, crop production and economic sustainability of cropland systems in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) region. The study will focus on the nexus of food production and water issues in the NGP region, made up of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. This region encompasses 24% of all US cropland and is the leading agricultural region for a number of major commodities, e.g., barley, spring wheat, cattle, dry beans, sunflower, etc. Water is the major crop-limiting factor through much of the region, which is subject to extremes of both drought and flooding, both of which are projected to increase in frequency with continued climate change. Many of the soils in the region have been degraded and depleted of organic matter as a consequence of conventional practices such as annual crop-summer fallow rotations and intensive tillage. Regenerative agricultural practices including high diversity cover cropping, no-till, agroforestry (windbreaks), rotation with perennial forage crops, and integrated livestock management have the capacity to increase soil organic matter content, improve water infiltration and water retention, and improve nutrient retention and recycling – all of which should increase system resiliency to projected climate changes and also contribute to CO2 drawdown.

The project will include farm-level soil measurements and farm surveys to compare convention vs regenerative practices as well as regional-scale model-based assessments of the impacts of management system changes on soil carbon removal and sequestration, soil health parameters and agroecosystem sustainability. We will select 10-12 farms across the region that have been practicing regenerative farming practices for at least five years. Based on land management practices prior to regen practice adoption, we will identify nearby operations that have continued “conventional practices” (which remain the overwhelming dominant management systems) but have similar climate, soil, topographic and land use histories as the regen farms. Georeferenced samples will be taken at each of the paired conventional-regen farms. Measurements will include soil organic matter and chemical properties (total organic C and N, inorganic C, particulate organic matter fraction (POM), mineral-associated organic matter fraction (MaOM), pH, available P) and soil physical parameters (bulk density, texture, aggregation, field infiltration rate). Simulation modeling will utilize the DayCent process-based biogeochemical model and the COMET-Farm analysis platform.

Advisors

  • Keith Paustian (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Meagan Schipanski (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Rich Conant (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability)
  • Dale Manning (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

The project will take a systems approach looking at soil-plant-water-nutrient interactions at the farm/agroecosystem scale, informed by field measurements of soil responses to management changes, and by ecosystem simulation modeling.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

The project will include both on-farm field-based soil/plant measurement, laboratory analysis and soil organic matter fractionation and ecosystem modelling at local and regional scales. We plan to conduct farm surveys and collect farm-level economic data to assess economic impacts of practice adoption. Additionally, the project will evaluate agricultural systems located on indigenous reservation land. Indigenous people of the Northern Great Plains may be more susceptible to the impacts of climate change due to reliance on subsistence economies, high rates of poverty/ unemployment, and connection to native plants and water sources.

Project 18: Modeling Feedbacks Between Irrigation Practices, Regional Climate, and Agricultural Productivity in Colorado and the Semi-Arid West

Over the past century, much of the Great Plains in eastern Colorado has undergone a transition in which the shortgrass steppe that formerly dominated the landscape has been replaced with areas of irrigated cropland and managed grazing lands. The transition to irrigated agriculture has likely had a significant influence on Colorado’s weather patterns, climate, and overall water balance. At a regional scale, there is considerable uncertainty about the possible ways in which irrigation and soil moisture impact clouds and precipitation. This is problematic for predictions of the state’s water resources and therefore future agricultural productivity, as it has been shown that runoff in the Colorado Headwaters is extremely sensitive to changes in both precipitation and evapotranspiration, and land use changes on the Great Plains have been shown to affect weather in the Rocky Mountains. Additionally, any feedbacks between irrigated agriculture and regional weather could have important impacts on crop yields. Given the state’s growing population and food demands in the face of limited water resources and changing climate, we must be able to answer the questions: How do irrigation practices affect regional weather patterns in Colorado? What affect do they have on patterns of precipitation, evapotranspiration, runoff, and storage, and the overall water balance? What could those changes mean for crop yields and decisions about what to plant and when and how to irrigate?

The main goals of this project are 1) to better understand how irrigation of agricultural fields influence land-atmosphere interactions and feed back on local and regional weather and climate in Colorado, 2) to gauge the implications of these effects on the overall water balance for the state, and 3) to assess how those potential changes may influence crop productivity and economic decision making associated with planting and watering practices. In this project, the trainee will a) use a high-resolution mesoscale numerical weather prediction model to investigate how, under current climate conditions, agricultural irrigation practices influence local and regional patterns of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff, and b) model the impacts of these hydrological changes on crop yields, and c) integrate these findings with a statistical approach to examine how producers respond to weather events, such as exploring how irrigated acres, crop choice and well retirement depend on local weather and climate.

Advisors

  • Peter Nelson (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Russ Schumacher (Atmospheric Science, Colorado Climate Center)
  • Nathan Mueller (Ecosystem Science & Sustainability, Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Dale Manning (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

This project aims to identify and quantify system-wide feedbacks between agricultural practice and regional weather and climate across a diverse landscape. This requires a systems perspective that integrates agricultural decision making, economics, hydrology, land-atmosphere interactions, and land use.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

This project integrates atmospheric science, hydrology, irrigated agriculture, and economics.

Project 19: Robust Monitoring, Reporting and Verification for Soil Carbon Sequestration in Rangelands

As the United States accelerate efforts to mitigate the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, a strong understanding of the true greenhouse gas consequences of improved rangeland management and a robust process for monitoring, reporting and verifying carbon credits are necessary. Despite grazing of extensive rangelands being one of the dominant land uses globally, the soil carbon and net greenhouse gas consequences of regenerative management strategies remains poorly quantified. There are numerous reasons including the nature of management decisions, lack of investment, and size of properties. At the same time rangelands and, in particular, adaptive grazing management on rangelands have been largely left out of emerging theories of soil carbon cycling focusing on biological transformations; essentially handicapping our ability to understand and predict carbon sequestration in response to adaptive grazing management. In addition to uncertainty around carbon sequestration, a gap remains in our understanding of the economic behavior driving rangeland management decisions related to soil carbon. Thus, it is urgent that we develop carbon offset potentials with acceptable accuracy and quantifiable uncertainty. Coupled with economic information, carbon offset potentials can inform the economics and policy required for adaptive rangeland management to achieve environmental goals while increasing profitability and resilience in the livestock sector.

In order to catalyze the development of quantitative indices of carbon sequestration and economic potential in rangelands, we propose a combination of top-down and bottom-up research tools that will address fundamental and applied science gaps in rangeland carbon cycling. Specifically, we aim to: (1) Evaluate the effects of adaptive management on soil carbon sequestration, (2) Advance our understanding of mechanisms driving soil carbon dynamics, (3) Improve predictions to more accurately evaluate the soil carbon sequestration potential, (4) Develop cost effective monitoring, reporting, and verification tools to enable rangelands to participate in emerging carbon markets, and (5) Integrate economic decision-making with the improved soil stock information to examine the economic potential for adaptive management and to identify policies that align private and societal values.

Advisors

  • Francesca Cotrufo (Soil & Crop Sciences)
  • Megan Machmuller (Atmospheric Science, Colorado Climate Center)
  • Dale Manning (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

The project utilizes a holistic and scientifically rigorous approach that aims to identify how the adoption of adaptive management practices impact ecological outcomes and climate mitigation potential in rangelands, including the assessment of water and nutrient cycling and greenhouse gas balance. With the collaboration of stakeholders and researchers across multiple disciplines and organizations, this project will address the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of adaptive management in Colorado rangelands.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

The research outlined here brings together strategic collaboration of producers, land-managers, and researchers from multiple fields including ecology, agricultural and resource economics, agronomy, soil science, process based and AI-based modeling, and remote sensing. Our project aims to produce the data and tools needed for regulatory carbon markets and policy; incentivizing regenerative management with rigorous science and an approach that is efficient, broadly applicable, and economically viable.

Project 20: Distributive Versus Centralized Food Production Systems: Energy and Water Implications

The production of food is a complicated system with production systems evolving with consumer demand. Similar to energy systems, there are distributive and centralized production facilities. Centralized production systems are large and geographically located in optimal growth locations. Distributive systems are smaller in size and support locally grown initiatives. While there is a demand for locally grown or distributive production systems there is uncertainty in the environmental sustainability in terms of energy and water. Producing food in non-optimal growth locations puts added pressure on local resources. These production systems include the need for greenhouses and auxiliary heating. Centralized food production does suffer from the burden of transportation of the final product. Ultimately there is a need to better understand the sustainability of these systems from a life cycle perspective. This project focuses on developing models that accurately represent the resource requirements and yield of distributive and centralized food production systems leveraging life cycle methods. The results from this work will be used to understand the energy and water intensity of food production in different geographically diverse locations.

Advisors

  • Jason Quinn (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Jesse Burkhardt (Agricultural & Resource Economics)
  • Becca Jablonski (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

Life cycle assessment modeling will enable a system level assessment of food production to be performed incorporating temporal and geographical inputs. The results will quantity the local water and energy implications of different technologies for food production.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

The project integrates plant biology, engineering, and life cycle modeling to develop a toolset that enables the assessment of food production systems incorporating geographical characteristics.

Project 21: Innovating Hydraulic Rating Structures for Improved Water Management in Semi-Arid Agricultural Systems

With mounting pressure from population growth and reduced predictability in precipitation patterns due to shifts in regional climate, the accurate and reliable quantification of highly valuable water resources in the semi-arid American West is an essential aspect of ensuring sustainable and equitable water allocation. This process is most often accomplished through the use of hydraulic rating structures that utilize theoretical frameworks as a foundation for understanding flow phenomena and then establishing semi-empirical rating equations necessary for the practical measurement and distribution of water. Recent advancements in the data resolution, modeling capacities, and processing power of experimental methods used for observing fundamental flow phenomena have created opportunity for the further refinement of governing equations for water management via an improved comprehension of complex fluid dynamics. Elucidation in this research area has the potential to improve the accuracy of flow measurement in relation to the use of hydraulic structures for the distribution and sound economic management of valuable irrigation water.

This project is seeking a trainee to operate within the overlapping realms of experimental laboratory research, computational fluid dynamics modeling, and field research on operational-scale structures to conduct a comprehensive investigation of flow phenomena around hydraulic control structures with the aim to further refine theoretical frameworks that inform semi-empirical rating equations. This project has the strong potential for the trainee to participate in interdisciplinary collaboration to investigate practical impacts for the FEWS nexus by conducting a techno-economic analysis of the potential savings gained by proposed changes to the engineering principles of hydraulic rating structures in contrast to the current conventional approaches. Furthermore, this work holds major importance for food production systems in semi-arid regions, due to the reliance of agriculturalists on a sufficient, fair-priced, and fairly allocated water supply in order to remain viable. Finally, by transforming water allocation infrastructure to become more reliable and accurate in its distribution and quantification of this valuable resource, potential exists to utilize this technological change as a means to help alleviate socio-political tensions created by the high competition of water between the food, energy, and municipal/industrial sectors.

Advisors

  • Karan Venayagamoorthy (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Timothy Gates (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
  • Allan Andales (Soil & Crops Sciences)
  • Chris Goemans (Agricultural & Resource Economics)

Systems Perspective

In addition to providing elucidation on fundamental theoretical frameworks for improved hydraulic engineering at an individual structures level, analysis can be done on the broader impacts of implementing these technological changes across an entire irrigation delivery network and modeling potential outcomes for food production and water allocation systems.

Interdisciplinary Aspects

Project integration with economic analysis of technological change to examine impacts on water allocation and food production systems with the potential to create savings for agriculturalists. Improved hydraulic infrastructure has the potential to mitigate socio-political tensions within the highly competitive water market of semi-arid regions.

Have an Idea?

CSU Faculty and Industry Partners interested in mentoring InTERFEWS trainees can propose research topics using the links below.