Projects

Current

Climate, Land, and Food

Agriculture occupies roughly half of Earth’s arable land and contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector. So the way we feed ourselves has a dramatic impact on our personal, institutional, and global environmental footprints. Since the fall of 2017, I’ve worked with non-profits and small companies to understand how to sustainably feed a growing and more affluent world population.

As senior environmental scientist at the Good Food Institute I worked across departments and with outside experts to define the environmental costs of animal agriculture and communicate the potential benefits of new plant-based and clean meat options. I also conducted a menu analysis of food served at a UN climate conference for partners with the Center for Biological Diversity, Farm Forward, and Brighter Green. Our findings about the high climate cost of the meat-centric food service at the conference were picked up by Bloomberg and other major news outlets.

Recent Projects

Applying LCA to Environmental Engineering and Systems Management

As an ORISE Postdoctoral Fellow at the Air Force Institute of Technology, I collaborated with faculty, environmental engineering staff, and facilities managers at one of the nation’s largest military bases to integrate cutting-edge sustainability tools into military decision making. Applying life cycle assessment methods to compare the social cost, carbon footprint, and human health impacts of vehicle and fuel choices for the base’s non-tactical vehicle fleet and treatment options for PFAS-contaminated drinking water sources.

Land Availability and Land Use Change for Biofuels

The expansion of first-generation (corn, soy) and second-generation (switchgrass, miscanthus, poplar, etc.) bioenergy crops in the United States will require land currently used for food, forage, or conservation. I coordinated a team of researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory to discover the types of land use likely to be displaced by bioenergy crops and the implications that may have for the carbon footprint of biofuels.

Comparative LCA of Urban Lettuce

As part of two invited book chapters for Sowing Seeds in the City, I worked with faculty at the University of Washington to compare energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from lettuce produced in an urban farm in Seattle and lettuce brought to the city from California. We found that local lettuce can have a much lower environmental footprint, but the source of fertilizer and management of the urban farm can dramatically change the size of the benefit of hyper-local farming.

GREET Model Update

Diagram of biomass and fossil carbon flows during switchgrass ethanol production.  Illustration by Jennifer Purnell.

Diagram of biomass (blue) and fossil (black) carbon flows during switchgrass ethanol production. Switchgrass takes up atmospheric carbon, and can be harvested wet (upper pathways) or dry (lower pathways) before storage, transportation, and processing en route to the biorefinery. Illustration by Jennifer Purnell.

In 2012, I was invited to work with the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model team at Argonne National Laboratory.  We developed and integrated parameters for cellulosic biomass collection, storage, and transportation which were included in the September 2013 model release (GREET1_2013).  Integrating these parameters into the model substantially alters estimates of net greenhouse gas emission from cellulosic biofuels.  I worked with illustrator Jennifer Purnell to create a graphic display of our findings (above) and presented a summary of the results at the 2013 Annual International Meeting of the ASABE.

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