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Research Awards and Grants (August 2022)

Each month College of Natural Resources faculty receive awards and grants from various federal, state, and nongovernmental agencies in support of their research. This report recognizes the faculty who received funding in August 2022.

Developing Integrated Geospatial Architectures to Support Enterprise Deployment of Geographic Information Systems Products at USDA

  • PI: Jones, Christopher Michael
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS)
  • Awarded Amount: $400,000 

Abstract: The primary purpose of this agreement is to cooperatively develop a framework to allow for integration of geospatial information systems as well as geospatial products into a Geospatial Hub hosted within an existing platform at USDA.  All constituent parts of USDA (mission areas, agencies, services) have geospatial investments and use. There is a need for a platform to 1. communicate the impact of geospatial programs and 2. allow for data sharing within USDA and between USDA, academia, private sector, other Federal agencies, and the public.  

Recreation Resources Service (RRS)

  • PI: Seekamp, Erin Lynn
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NC Dept. of Natural & Cultural Resources formerly NC Dept of Env. & Natural Resources (DENR)
  • Awarded Amount: $5,538,530 

Abstract: The Recreation Resources Service (RRS) is established for the specific purpose of providing assistance to public and private segments of the leisure service industry within North Carolina. Clientele of the program include: municipal and county park and recreation departments, nonprofit agencies, private recreation agencies, recreation consumer groups, and recreation and park board and commission members. RRS provides timely,cutting edge technical assistance to improve community park and recreation opportunities, sponsors a variety of continuing education opportunities addressing current issues facing park and recreation professionals, conducts applied research studies, and assists communities with state and federal park and recreation grants.

Investigating the Impact of Environmental Greenspace Exposure on Telomere Length

  • PI: Hipp, James A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Center for Human Health and the Environment
  • Amount Awarded: $36,546 

Abstract: Our proposed project will seek to explore the relationship between greenspace exposure and telomere length in a large sample from the United States. This result can provide evidence for a biological pathway that greenspace exposure influences human health. The project will also examine the spatial scale of the exposure relationship to determine the feasibility of Zip codes as an analysis unit versus census geographies and residential location. If Zip codes provide sufficient results, this spatial information would provide a means of data collection in future studies that protects participant privacy. The proposed project will expand CHHE collaborations with new connections between Drs. Hipp and Reif. Importantly, pilot funding will also provide Dr. Ogletree, postdoctoral scholar in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management and the Center for Geospatial Analytics, with valuable experience to establish himself in the field of environmental health research and with NHANES data, expanding the potential for a K award. 

Characterization of Residual Xylan in Dissolving Pulps

  • PI: Park, Sunkyu 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Eastman Chemical Company
  • Amount Awarded: $760,869 

Abstract: The differences in compositional and molecular weight of insoluble gel particles during the acetylation of cellulose have a negative impact on the downstream manufacturing process and final product quality. It is generally agreed that the residual hemicelluloses present in dissolving pulp play a role in the formation of these insoluble gel particles. However, a detailed understanding of the effects of hemicellulose composition, branching, and molecular weight on the presence of insoluble gel particles has not been clearly elucidated. To address this issue, it is important to understand the relationship between the composition of insoluble gel particles and their solubility in a common solvent such as acetone.

Catalytic Upgrading of Carbohydrates in Waste Streams to Hydrocarbons

  • PI: Park, Sunkyu 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Energy (DOE) – Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE)
  • Amount Awarded: $1,250,807 

Abstract: The objective of this project is to demonstrate catalytic processes for upgrading carbohydrates to hydrocarbon biofuels using two low-cost wet organic waste streams: Papermaking sludge and Post-sorted municipal solid waste. The work is based on the previous success of hydrocarbon production from corn stover in a bench scale via dilute-acid and enzymatic deconstruction followed by dehydration to furans, condensation, and hydrodeoxygenation to hydrocarbons. The project team will develop (1) a sugar production process and a removal strategy of non-carbohydrates that could poison catalysts during the conversion process, (2) isomerization and dehydration processes necessary to convert both glucose and xylose to furans in a single reactor, (3) an upgrading process of furans via aldol condensation with ketone and hydrodeoxygenation to diesel range hydrocarbons, and (4) a detailed techno-economic analysis to integrate and optimize the overall process. The developed process in this project will be demonstrated in a relevant pilot-scale and life cycle assessment will be evaluated.   

AI-Enabled Hyperspectral Imaging Augmented with Multi-Sensory Information for Rapid/Real-time Analysis of Non-Recyclable Heterogeneous MSW for Conversion to Energy

  • PI: Pal, Lokendra 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Energy (DOE) – Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE)
  • Amount Awarded: $32,626 

Abstract: This project will focus on rapid/real-time analysis of domestic heterogeneous municipal biomass waste utilizing AI-Enabled Hyperspectral Imaging for developing conversion ready feedstock into cost effective and sustainable biofuel for selling price under $2.50 per gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE) by 2030. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is considered as an abundant potential source for biomass. This biomass, if used as a feedstock for fuel conversion operation will promote the sustainable fuel production and lower the prices. The heterogeneity of the MSW based on locations and time period can affect the biofuels or bioproducts. Therefore, the characterization of the MSW feedstock at macro and microlevel in terms of chemical and physical composition, at different speeds of conveyor system, at different times and collection sites will be studied.

EMN-22-E-Acetate Pulp and Lignosulfonate LCI

  • PI: Venditti, Richard A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Eastman Chemical Company
  • Amount Awarded: $19,636 

Abstract: This project will modify a previously-created site-specific life cycle model of acetate pulp mills to generate more generic life cycle inventory and assessment suitable for publication. A document for publication will be generated that may include information on the generic model such as the key assumptions, inputs and outputs of the life cycle inventory, and life cycle impacts of the models broken down into sub-processes and internal flows. Additionally, a brief report or presentation of the relative LCIA results between the site-specific and generic models will be provided to Eastman including a high-level discussion on the origin of the differences (different processes or conditions selected).  The LCI studies have already been conducted and models are available in order to run the LCIA in openLCA for publication purposes.

Intercropping POPULUS for Bioenergy and Veneer

  • PI: Hazel, Dennis W.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
  • Awarded Amount: $132,512 

Abstract:  Producing feedstocks for bioenergy remains a national long-term priority. The congressionally-mandated Renewable Fuel Standard remains in effect and targets will increase with time.  Many states have Renewable Portfolio Standards while the European Union increasingly is relying on the U.S. for feedstocks to support their energy and carbon policies. With low feedstock prices and high costs of establishment and production for purpose-grown energy crops, few landowners will engage in production until the enterprise is more profitable. We believe that using a modified short-rotation woody crops (SRWC) system, a high-value Populus veneer can be co-produced with energy feedstocks in North Carolina with little yield loss for feedstocks by growing high biomass-yield clones selected for the specific site based on our research with clones selected for veneer. Columbia Forest Products Inc. has expressed great interest in using Populus logs for veneer production following the outcome of processing Populus logs for veneer at their Old Fort facility in North Carolina. We propose to evaluate the efficacy of the hybrid feedstock/veneer SRWC system and evaluate the potential landowner incomes and investment quality using our established plantations, the enterprise budget and decision tool already developed, and the Populus productivity model (3PG) under development for North Carolina. We will screen and evaluate available clones for biomass yield and potential for veneer, determine optimum spacing and rotation regimes for the modified SRWC system to maximize economic returns and conduct investment quality analyses of such projects for North Carolina.

Collaborative Research: Building Capacity to Improve STEM Education through Citizen Science by Scaling Up University-Community Partnerships

  • PI: Cooper, Caren Beth
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Awarded Amount: $37,337 

Abstract:  This IUSE:EHR-ICT proposal seeks to build the capacity for establishing citizen science communities that engage students in meaningful learning experiences in and around the Nation’s largest Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Citizen Science refers to efforts to involve volunteers from across different sectors of society, stakeholder groups, and communities in the scientific process.  North Carolina State University (NCSU) has been a leader in efforts to bring Citizen Science into university classrooms through Active Learning (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) pedagogies. As collaborators on this proposed project their experience and expertise will be leveraged in capacity building efforts at North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T SU) focused in four key areas: training, relationship & awareness building, information technology infrastructure, and needs assessment for scaling-up the project. Initial capacity building efforts within NC A&T SU will be centered in the Sociology and Psychology Programs within the College of Health and Human Sciences (CHSS) and extend outward through partnerships with other programs in the CHHS, other Colleges and Divisions and student organizations within the University, and the broader East Greensboro, NC community. Among other things, funds from the grant will support the training of members of the NC A&T SU research team in the use of citizen science IT platforms and active learning pedagogies. These faculty members will in turn become ambassadors who will host workshops and events that build the capacity of additional faculty collaborators to integrate citizen science-based active learning approaches into their courses. Evaluation of the capacity building efforts will be assessed via rates of participation in capacity building events, implementation of these approaches into university classrooms, and formative evaluations using focus groups and surveys.   

Monitoring the Carolina hemlock ecosystem: assessing health across the landscape and through time

  • PI: Forrester, Jodi A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service
  • Awarded Amount: $74,449 

Abstract:  A monitoring program for Carolina hemlock ecosystems will be implemented across the species range. Vulnerability will be assessed using long-term growth, climate, and insect infestation patterns. Growth and mortality rates from the spatially extensive empirical data will be tested against Carolina hemlock status conditions from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program data. 

Value of Flow Forecasts to Power System Analytics

  • PI: Kern, Jordan 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Awarded Amount: $84,699 

Abstract:  Most hydropower utilities rely on external forecast products provided by NOAA River Forecast Centers and/or an additional source from private industry to support the scheduling of hydropower operations. The producers of these forecasts, NOAA, industry, and even in-house forecasters do not have access to the dynamic energy prices (production cost models) or the electricity traders strategies to maximize revenue from utilization of the hydropower assets. Therefore, the group operating the reservoir is unable to assess the market value of their inflow forecasts, eliminating any ability to target forecast improvements to increase contributions of hydropower to electrical system needs. Both NOAA and industry have reached out to DOE WPTO to understand which inflow forecast products and accuracy levels would be needed to enhance the value of forecasts, from water management and marketed hydropower and grid resilience perspectives. We propose to use inflow forecast, reservoir and power system model simulations, and case studies to practically demonstrate where forecast improvements would create the most value for hydropower services. This research will benefit utilities and other hydropower operators who utilize flow forecasting to support water management and electricity production; it will also support DOE in targeting future investments related to forecasting that will benefit these groups. 

Collaborative Research: Continent-wide Forest Recruitment Change: the Interactions Between Climate, Habitat, and Consumers

  • PI: Kays, Roland W.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Awarded Amount: $333,092 

Abstract:  The sustainability of North American forests depends on seed production and seedling recruitment, neither of which are known at the biogeographic scales of greatest concern with climate change. Future forests will be dominated by the species that not only produce seed near and beyond current range limits. Seedling recruitment must succeed in the context of shifting climate and the predation pressure on seedlings that is likewise responding to changing climate. Understanding these recruitment responses requires a methodological shift from current monitoring of tiny plots to extensive sampling methods that can be implemented at community to biogeographic scales. This study combines continental scale fecundity estimates, newly available from the MASTIF project, with a new generation of monitoring and synthesis methods for integrating fecundity, seedling success, and consumers.

Forest Health Monitoring, Analysis, and Assessment

  • PI: Conkling, Barbara L.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service
  • Awarded Amount: $425,474 

Abstract:  The Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) Program is a long-term, national research and monitoring effort focusing on forest ecosystems. This interagency program is designed to assist resource managers and policy makers in managing forest resources in the United States, allocating funds for research and development, and evaluating the effectiveness of environmental policies. FHM national reporting includes an annual technical report that provides analysis and synthesis of technical information at the national level as well as other special publications that provide information about national forest health conditions and management priorities. Through the work in this agreement, the principal investigators and other research personnel will provide the Forest Health Monitoring Research Team of the USFS Southern Research Station’s Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) with data analyses, natural resource assessments, and technical writing skills in support of the national Forest Health Monitoring Program’s annual national reporting and research efforts. This will include performing and coordinating data analysis, technical writing, and editing for FHM’s annual forest health data report and contributions to other reporting and research efforts. The project will also provide support to the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program in documentation development.

Cooperative Work Study Partnership

  • PI: Forrester, Jodi A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service
  • Awarded Amount: $73,400 

Abstract:  The purpose of this agreement is to document the cooperation between the parties to accomplish cultural and natural resource management and support. In addition to getting critical work accomplished, the partnership will offer valuable workforce development opportunities to interns and crew members through the Public Land Corps programs.