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Smart Farms of the Future: Making Bioenergy Crops More Environmentally Friendly

California, Carbon Capture, Energy, Farming/Growing, Federal Agency, Feedstock, Feedstocks, Field/Orchard/Plantation Crops/Residues, Government Resources, Infrastructure, R & D Focus, Resources, Sustainability
June 3, 2020

by Julie Chao (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)  Berkeley Lab launches three new projects to advance sustainable agricultural practices … The three projects, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), leverage Berkeley Lab’s strengths in artificial intelligence, sensors, and ecological biology. They aim to quantify and reduce the carbon intensity of agriculture, including the farming of biofuel feedstocks such as corn, soy, and sorghum, while also increasing yield.

Crop-based biofuels have the potential to supply up to about 5% of U.S. energy demand, according to the DOE. Two of the new projects are part of the SMARTFARM program of DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). This initiative aspires to make the biofuel supply chain carbon negative – meaning it removes or sequesters more carbon than it emits – which would greatly improve biofuel’s benefits to the broader economy and environment. Scientists also hope that the increased productivity will have the effect of lowering costs and increasing farmers’ income.

“How can we make this Earth work for 7 billion people?” said Michael Schuppenhauer, who is leading one of the projects for an industry partner, Arva Intelligence, a startup based in Park City, Utah. “If we can develop a pathway for farmers to have a better bottom line and help the environment, that’s where everybody wins.”

A third project is supported by a DOE small business grant and is in partnership with Arva Intelligence.

Gathering massive amounts of data

In the first project, researchers led by Blake Simmons, director of Berkeley Lab’s Biological & Systems Engineering (BSE) Division, working with project lead, Arva Intelligence, will monitor five commercial farms in California and Arkansas growing corn and crops for straw. The farms will be equipped with state-of-the-art sensors to assess fertilizer, water, energy use, and crop yield, while monitoring towers registered with DOE’s AmeriFlux network will measure emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane at subsecond resolution.

The environmental and emissions impacts of biofuel production — one of the largest consumers of grain crops in the U.S. — are well understood, but emissions and opportunities for improvements at the field-level remain unclear. The Arva/Berkeley Lab team is one of four selected by ARPA-E to establish validation sites to “ground truth” solutions for emissions monitoring, with a variety of crop species included across the teams.

The Berkeley Lab team is considering anaerobic digestion of crop residues, which are the parts of the plants left on the field after the food crop has been harvested, to biogas as a viable pathway for farmers. “Crop residues are actually the largest pool of readily available sustainable biomass that you can efficiently convert into biofuels and bioproducts,” Simmons said. “We can use that as the feedstock. So, you’re producing food and fuel and fiber from the same field and maximizing the carbon conversion efficiency on a per-acre basis. That is the reason why, ultimately, we believe this pathway has a much better eco- and carbon-balance than other pathways.”

As part of the project, Berkeley Lab scientists will conduct atmospheric sensing of greenhouse gases, genomic analyses to characterize the soil microbiome, and life cycle analysis to determine the ratio of carbon input to output. The field experiments will generate massive amounts of data. Arva will use the data to build mathematical models and improve precision agriculture algorithms to help farms become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative.

“The end products aren’t just looking at greenhouse gas emissions,” said Schuppenhauer, the project’s lead for Arva, who is also a BSE affiliate scientist. “The end products will be things such as: How much fertilizer do we really need? If we can reduce the amount of fertilizer use by half or a quarter, that has implications on fossil fuel use, as it is used in fertilizer production.”

ARPA-E awarded Arva $2.95 million for the project, of which $1.6 million will go to Berkeley Lab. In addition to Simmons, researchers from Berkeley Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area, the DOE Joint Genome Institute, and the University of Arkansas are also involved.

Making sense of all that data

In the second project, also funded by ARPA-E, Berkeley Lab researchers led by Yuxin Wu will take in the data from the other ARPA-E SMARTFARM teams and develop a common standard for carbon accounting.

Currently, established low-carbon fuel markets can confer sizable financial rewards to products that are produced with low greenhouse gas emissions, bringing farmers as much as $100 per acre in additional revenue. Yet farmers lack a way to measure their carbon footprint.

“If you really want to put a price on carbon from biofuels production, you have to be able to accurately measure emissions of carbon and carbon-equivalents from each farm,” said Wu, head of Berkeley Lab’s Geophysics Department. “That could incentivize farmers to move away from resource-intensive farming, where they are driven to maximize yield by using more fertilizer.”

But carbon accounting is no easy task. “Greenhouse gases are released by plant and root respiration, by the soil, by fertilizer use, and when you pump water or use machinery. It’s a complex equation,” said Wu. “And each farm operates in their own way. How we put together these very different datasets is a challenge.”

ARPA-E awarded Berkeley Lab $1 million for the project.

A software system for farmers

Lastly, Berkeley Lab researchers, led by Nicola Falco and Haruko Wainwright, are partnering with Arva to develop machine-learning software to integrate DOE’s environmental databases with local-scale monitoring and sensing.

The DOE databases and facilities – such as AmeriFlux and ESS-DIVE, a repository for Earth and environmental science data – provide critical datasets for understanding agro-ecosystem functions on the regional and national scales. These functions include greenhouse gas fluxes, evapotranspiration, and soil biogeochemistry.

In this project, the researchers will develop a scalable software system to couple the local-scale datasets – such as from sensors monitoring water, nutrients, and fertilizers – with the DOE datasets. “The DOE’s databases and user facilities offer powerful assessments, yet they have been rarely used for ecosystem management,” said Falco.

The software will be able to, for example, couple evapotranspiration estimates derived from Ameriflux with local soil sensors and drone images to provide information on water management practices. DOE has awarded Arva a small business grant of up to $200,000 for this project.

Berkeley Lab’s efforts to leverage machine learning for sustainable agriculture started in 2018 on a farm in Arkansas. Falco and Wainwright have since developed a suite of algorithms, now available for licensing, to help farmers estimate sprout and plant density using images taken by drones. These estimates, in turn, enable real-time adjustments to boost productivity.

“Berkeley Lab has extensive expertise characterizing soil-plant interactions and other terrestrial ecosystem properties across scales,” said Wainwright. “By working with Arva and its machine-learning capabilities, we hope to transfer our tools and knowledge more quickly for operational management.”

# # #

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/scienceREAD MORE

 

Why we can’t count on carbon-sucking farms to slow climate change even though lots of politicians, environmentalists, and companies are eager to try.  (Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review)

Croatan Institute is surveying regenerative grain & livestock supply chains for investment opps (Ag Funder News)

 

Excerpt from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review:  Companies like BPGeneral MillsKelloggMicrosoft, and Shell have all announced plans or joined initiatives that will direct their suppliers to adopt the techniques or pay farmers who do so to obtain so-called offsets credits. These allow the businesses to claim credit for the carbon dioxide pulled out of the atmosphere, without cutting emissions from their own operations.

In addition, several venture capital-backed startups have set up soil offsets marketplaces that allow companies and nonprofits to purchase credits from farmers. Most notably that includes Indigo Agriculture, which has raised more than $850 million to date to build up its soil carbon business and other operations.

And now an influential California nonprofit, the Climate Action Reserve, is in the process of writing standards for soil carbon offsets, which would offer a stamp of approval likely to spur more people and businesses to buy these credits.

But there’s a big problem: there is little evidence that carbon farming works as well as promised.

It’s unclear whether the practices can be carried out over long periods and on a massive scale across the world’s farms without undercutting food production. And there are significant disagreements about what it will take to accurately measure and certify that farms are actually removing and storing increased amounts of carbon dioxide.

These uncertainties further complicate the well-documented challenges in setting up any reliable carbon offsets program. Studies have frequently found these systems can substantially overestimate reductions, as economic, environmental and political pressures all push toward issuing large numbers of offsets credits. The programs can also create opportunities for gamesmanship and greenwashing that undermine real progress on climate change, observers say.

As Climate Action Reserve looks to ramp up the use of these credits, some fear the group is on the verge of creating a standard that may well invite such behavior.   READ MORE

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paraffins Paraguay parity partial waiver particulates pasture land Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) patents pathways Paulownia paulownia tree payments peaches peak oil peak oil demand peanuts/groundnuts peas pectin peela kaner pellets Pennsylvania pennycress/stinkweed pentane pentanol pentose pequi perennial grains perennial grasses Performance permitting Peru pest-tolerance pesticide-tolerance pests petition petroleum pharmaceuticals phase separation Philippines phosphorus photobioreactor photosynthesis phragmites pigeon pea pilot scale pine pineapple pine beetle pine nut pinion pipelines Pistacia chinensis PLA plant cell research plant cell walls plant oil plastic plastic-to-jet Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) plume grass Poland poli Policy politics pollinators pollution pollution control polyfuel polymer polymerization polysaccharides pomace pomegranates pongamia pongamia pinnata poplar poppy population control Portable refinery Portugal poster sessions potamogeton potassium potato poultry litter power-to-x/gas/liquid prairie grasses pre-processing precision farming/agriculture precursors/biointermediates premium gasoline Pretreatment pretreatment equipment price price of water prickly pear Prince Edward Island process flow diagram producer tax credit Production tax credit productivity project insurance propagating Propane/Biopropane/Renewable Propane propanol property insurance propylene protectionism protein protests public comments public health policy Puerto Rico pulp Pulp/Paper Mill pump retrofit kit pumps pungam Punnai tree pyrolysis Q-RIN QAP Qatar quality assurance Quality Assurance Plans (QAPs) quality improvement quantum dots Quebec Queensland quote of the week r R33 rabbits race radiata pine Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing railroad rainforest rain tree RAND rare earth metal RD20 RD30 RD99 RD100 reclaimed mine lands recycled oil recycled plastics recycling red algae redcedar Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation refineries reforestation Reformate regenerative braking regenerative farming regulation regulations Regulations-Federal Regulations-State Regulatory Enhancement Growth Support (REGS) Reid vapor pressure (RVP) remediation remediation rice straw Renewable Chemical renewable chemical producer tax incentive renewable chemical production tax credit renewable d Renewable Diesel/Green Diesel/Paraffinic Diesel Renewable Diesel/Green Diesel price Renewable Diesel Production renewable diesel pumps renewable diesel tax credit renewable diesel terminal Renewable Energy Renewable Energy Directive (RED and RED II) Renewable Energy Standard Renewable Energy to Fuels through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids (REFUEL) renewable fuel renewable fuel oil (RFO) Renewable Fuels Directive (EU) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) revisions/repeal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS and RFS2) renewable gasoline blendstock renewable marine diesel Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) price Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) pumps Renewable Portfolio Standards Renewable Power Standard Renewable Synthesized Iso-Paraffinic Fuels (SIP) Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) renewable volume obligation (RVO) RenovaBio replacement molecules Repowering Assistance Program repurpose research and development research facility resiliency resource depletion retail retrofit return on investment R Factor RFI (Request for Information) RFS "reset" RHD100 Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS) Rhode Island Ricardo rice rice bran oil rice hulls rice husks rice price rice straw RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) RIMPAC RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) RINs markets RINs price risk management RJ-4 RJ-6 RME (rape methyl ester) RME180 RNA (Ribonucleic acid) roadmap rocket fuel Romania RON (Research Octane Number) rotation crops royalties RTP (rapid thermal processing) rubber rumen ruminants rural development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative Russia Russian olive rutabaga Rwanda ry rye Rye grass s saccharification Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) safety safflower sago pond weed SAIC SAK Salicornia salt-tolerant saltbush saltcedar sal tree salt water Sanctions Santa Monica sardine oil Saskatchewan Saudi Arabia sawdust scale up Scandinavia scholarships/fellowships Science Advisory Board (SAB) Science Policy Scotland scum sea level rise seashore mallow seawater Seaweed/Macroalgae seaweed cultivation Section 526 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seed-to-wheel seed husks Senegal Serbia sesame sewage Seychelles shale shale gas shale oil shark oil sheep shipping shipping containers shipworm Sierra Leone silica Silphie/cup plant/Indian cup silver silver maple simarouba Singapore sisal SK slash Slovakia Slovakia/Slovak Republic Slovenia sludge Small Business Administration small engines small refinery exemption (SRE) smog smokestack soap Social social cost social value social venture Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) soi soil soil amendments soil carbon soil health soil microbial biomass solar-to-fuels solar biofuels solar energy solar energy-to-chemical conversion solaris solid oxide fuel cell Solutions solvent liquefaction Somalia soot sorghum sorghum oil sorghum stover South Africa South America South Australia South Carolina South Dakota Southeast Asia Southern Africa South Korea South Pacific South Sudan Soviet Union SOx (Sulfur oxides) soybean prices soybeans soy meal Spain spartina specifications sprawl spruce Sri Lanka Stakeholders standards start-up State Department Statistics steam explosion steam reformation steel stevia stillage storage tanks Straight (pure) Vegetable Oil (SVO or PVO) stranded assets Strategic Bioenergy Reserve STrategiv Petroleum Reserve straw students su sub-Saharan Africa sub-sim (substantially similar) succinic acid sucrose Sudan sugar sugar-to-biodiesel sugar-to-farnesane sugar-to-jetfuel Sugar Beets/Energy Beets sugarcane sugarcane prices sugarcane straw Sugar kelp sugar palm sugar platform sugar prices sugars sugars-to-fats sugar standards sulfur Sumatra sunflower supercritical fluid supercritical hydrolysis supply agreements supply chain Supreme Court surahart Suriname sustai Sustainability Swaziland Sweden sweetgum sweet potatoes Sweet sorghum swine waste Switchgrass Switzerland sycamore syngas syngas fermentation synthetic biology synthetic diesel synthetic gasoline synthetic liquified gas (SLG) synthetic methane Syria Tailoring Rule Taiwan Tajikistan tall fescue tall oil tallow tallow tree Tamarix tank-to-wheel tank cars tankers tanker trucks Tanzania tariffs taro tar sands Tasmania tax benefit tax credit taxes tax incentives tax parity tax policy tea teach-the-teacher teacher teacher resources teacher training technical course Technical Readiness Levels technology transfer tech transfer telephone utility poles Tennessee termites terpenes terrestrial carbon testing Texas textbook Thailand theft therapeutics thermal deoxygenation thermocatalytic conversion thermochemical conversion Tier 3 Tier 4 tilapia tillage Timor-Leste tires tobacco tobacco tree Togo Tokyo toluene Tonga tool Toronto torrefaction Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) trade trade dispute/discrimination trade group trade organization Trade Policy trade secrets training trains transesterification transgenics transition Transportation Fuels Policy Transportation Fuels Policy--Municipal Transportation Fuels Policy--State Transportation Policy Treasury Department trees Trinidad and Tobago triticale trucks tubers tung tunicate Tunisia Turkey UCOME (Used Cooking Oil Methyl Ester) Uganda UK (United Kingdom) Ukraine UL (Underwriters Laboratory) ULSD (ultra low sulfur diesel) Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (ULSFO) underground storage tanks (UST) UNESCO United Arab Emirates (UAE) United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) United Nations (UN) United States Auto Club Unleaded 88/E15 uranium urbanization urban sprawl Uruguay USAC US Agency for International Development (USAID) USAID US Army USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) used cooking oil (UCO) used railroad ties US ethanol exports US Geological Survey US Product Safety Commission Utah utility model Uzbekistan value chain vanadium Vancouver Vanuatu Vatican VEETC vegetable oils vehicles miles traveled (VMT) Velocys Venezuela Vermont Victoria video Vietnam vinasse vinegar vineyard waste Virginia Virgin Islands. virgin oils viruses VLSFO (very low sulfur fuel oil) volunteers waiver Wales warranty Washington Washington DC waste waste-to-chemicals Waste-to-Energy waste-to-fuel waste alcohol Waste CO2 waste heat waste management waste oil waste paper waste vegetable oil wastewater water water consumption water footprint water hyacinth watermeal watermelon water pollution water quality water treatment weather well-to-wheel West Africa Western Australia West Java West Virginia wet distillers grain wet extraction What You Can Do wheat wheat bran wheat fiber wheatgrass wheat prices wheat straw whey whisky white grease White House wildlife habitat willow wind energy wine wastage/grape marc winter crops Wisconsi Wisconsin Wood woody biomass World Bank World Trade Organization (WTO) Wyoming XTL xylan xylene xylose yard waste yeast yellow grease yellowhorn tree Yemen yields Yukon Zambia Zanzibar zein zeolites Zimbabwe zinc

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