Extension prepares communities for future biofuel opportunities, builds bioenergy literacy, and supports stakeholders
Communities across the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are learning how to participate in producing sustainable and renewable energy as well as chemicals used in everyday products. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture has funded a research project, Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest (AHB), to investigate the development of a regional biofuel and biochemical industry based on locally grown hybrid poplar trees. This industry could create economic opportunities in rural communities, reduce foreign oil dependence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide environmental benefits such as improved water quality and wildlife habitat.
Educating stakeholders to help them make informed decisions is a critical part of this project. Potential growers should understand both the benefits and risks of growing poplar for bioenergy or other purposes. Policy makers and communities should understand the broader economic, environmental, and social impacts of a new biofuel and biochemical industry.
The AHB Extension team identified key stakeholder groups that would be involved and interested in the development of a poplar-based biofuel and biochemical industry in the PNW. These groups included growers, policy makers, Extension professionals, and the general public. Wastewater treatment managers growing poplar for wastewater and biosolids management were also targeted. To engage stakeholders, the team developed a variety of education and outreach programs comprising field tours, workshops, and webinars. Outreach materials included a comprehensive project website (hardwoodbiofuels.org), professional videos, policy briefs, information sheets, and factsheets. General public outreach targeted youth, teens, and adults. Materials were produced in Spanish for Latino audiences.
The team hosted and organized three national conferences to bring together researchers, Extension professionals, policy makers, and other stakeholders from around the country. These conferences focused on poplar and other woody crops, incorporating environmental benefits into energy crop production, and national energy issues for Extension professionals.
“Extension is the glue that holds [the project] together. They are the communicators, the communication arm of our project, and they couldn’t be more important.” – Bill Goldner, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
“Seeing what is happening on the ground and learning from those who are conducting the research is critical to informing decisions so that as we move forward we are doing so thoughtfully and truly responsibly.” – Norma Smith, Washington State Legislator
Partners and Funding
Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest (AHB) is a consortium of PNW university and industry partners led by the University of Washington. The AHB Extension team is led by Washington State University. AHB integrates research, education, and Extension to develop poplar-based biofuel and biochemical industries in the PNW.
AHB is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30407 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Since 2012, the AHB Extension team has reached and built relationships with thousands of stakeholders. The outreach work has increased knowledge and awareness of poplar, biofuels, bioproducts, bio-based chemicals, petroleum, and energy literacy.
Annual field tours at the AHB demonstration sites have attracted nearly 500 attendees. An average of 96% of surveyed field tour participants reported a better understanding of hardwood biofuels. In addition, 98% of survey participants reported that they were moderately or highly likely to communicate to others what they learned. Comments from field tours include:
• “Great presentation! Very excited to learn more and share with the senator and policy staff.”
• “Very happy to see that these tours occur. As a student of energy science, I would love to see tours of the refinery happen as well.”
More than 400 people have attended the hardwood biofuels webinars and thousands have viewed the archived webinars. From these events, 94% of participants reported being moderately or highly likely to share knowledge gained with others.
Classroom visits at 26 Washington schools focused on energy literacy for 3rd through 8th grade students. The students increased their energy literacy scores by 30% after attending workshops and had many energy-saving ideas including:
• Turning off electronics and lights after use
• Bike riding
• Turning off water after use
• Taking shorter showers
The AHB Extension work should have lasting impacts beyond the time of the grant and will be available through the vast archive of resources on the project website. The AHB Extension team helped establish the National Extension Energy Initiative through the Association for Natural Resource Extension Professionals (ANREP) that will have ongoing biennial conferences. Funding is being pursued to continue energy literacy and Latino programs. The idea of growing poplar for environmental benefits in combination with bioenergy is picking up steam and is paving the way for future funding opportunities.