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MSU-led regional team awarded $6M NSF grant to research biofuel, carbon capture technologies

A regional interdisciplinary team led by Montana State University has received $6 million from the National Science Foundation to address questions about whether biofuels and carbon capture technologies can be sustainably introduced into the Upper Missouri River Basin. The main project goal is to develop a framework for evaluating proposals to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations while maintaining food security, water quality, biodiversity and other benefits, Stoy said.

The researchers could find unexpected social and environmental conflicts when biofuels are used to generate energy and carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in geological formations or in ecosystems, explained Paul Stoy, principal investigator and associate professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in MSU’s College of Agriculture.

The Upper Missouri River Basin refers to the Missouri River and all its tributaries upstream of Sioux City, Iowa. The basin contains parts or most of five states—Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska—and more than 20 Indian reservations. It represents 30% of the wheat produced in the United States, 13% of the soybeans, 11% of the cattle and 9% of the corn, according to the Upper Missouri River Basin Association.

The Upper Missouri River Basin also contains the Colstrip power plant in eastern Montana—the second largest coal-fired generating facility west of the Mississippi—and the Bakken shale formation.

Thirty-one private, state and federal institutions and more than 50 people, including 18 MSU faculty and 13 MSU graduate students, will be involved in the project that will run into 2020, Stoy said. MSU will take the lead on research related to agriculture and biofertilizers, food security, clean energy, and water supply and quality.

Researchers at USD will focus on land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services assessment. UW will take the lead on issues related to agricultural economics, economic modeling and land use. Importantly for the integrated award, all institutions will have the opportunity to collaborate on all aspects of the project.

Montana partners in the project will include Little Big Horn College on the Crow Indian Reservation, Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Indian Reservation and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems. Among the federal participants are the National Park Service, the US Geological Survey and the US Department of Agriculture.

The $6 million grant was one of 11 grants recently awarded through the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

EPSCoR was established in 1979 to expand and enhance the research capability of scientists in states that traditionally have lacked strong university-based research efforts. The program was designed to help researchers compete more successfully for a portion of the current federal academic research and development budget.

Montana was one of the original five states to be involved in the EPSCoR program. In 1990, Congress began expanding the program beyond the NSF. Today, EPSCoR is available through seven federal research and development agencies.


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