Researchers have developed a model that could boost investment in farm-based sustainable energy projects by allowing investors to more accurately predict whether a project will turn a profit. The model improves on earlier efforts by using advanced computational techniques to address uncertainty.

"Converting animal waste into electricity can be profitable for farmers while also producing environmental benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions," says Mahmoud Sharara, lead author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University. However, farmers cannot always finance these projects, and projects aren't always a profitable enterprise for a single farm. "One way to address this is to develop cooperative anaerobic digestion systems that make use of waste from multiple farms," Sharara says. "Two of the big questions surrounding this sort of project are: Where do you build the cooperative system? And how can you tell whether it will be profitable?"

To that end, the researchers developed a computational model that tells users how to maximize the economic return on anaerobic digestion systems. Specifically, it tells users where a system should be located, what its capacity should be and how large a geographic area it should serve. The model accounts for a variety of known factors, such as which species a farm is raising, the size of each farm and where each farm is located. But what sets the model apart is the way it accounts for uncertainty.

(Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily.

Photo credit: Randy Jordan