The increasing demand for bioenergy crops presents our society with the opportunity to design more sustainable landscapes. We have created a Biomass Location for Optimal Sustainability Model (BLOSM) to test the hypothesis that landscape design of cellulosic bioenergy crop plantings may simultaneously improve water quality (i.e. decrease concentrations of sediment, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen) and increase profits for farmer-producers while achieving a feedstock-production goal. BLOSM was run using six scenarios to identify switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) planting locations that might supply a commercial-scale biorefinery planned for the Lower Little Tennessee (LLT) watershed. Each scenario sought to achieve different sustainability goals: improving water quality through reduced nitrogen, phosphorus, or sediment concentrations; maximizing profit; a balance of these conditions; or a balance of these conditions with the additional constraint of converting no more than 25% of agricultural land. Scenario results were compared to a baseline case of no land-use conversion. BLOSM results indicate that a combined economic and environmental optimization approach can achieve multiple objectives simultaneously when a small proportion (1.3%) of the LLT watershed is planted with perennial switchgrass. The multimetric optimization approach described here can be used as a research tool to consider bioenergy plantings for other feedstocks, sustainability criteria, and regions.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory