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Synergies and trade-offs in renewable energy landscapes: Balancing energy production with economics and ecosystem services

Hanes, Rebecca J., Gopalakrishnan, Varsha, Bakshi, Bhavik R.
Applied energy 2017 v.199 pp. 25-44
biodiesel, biomass, corn, design for environment, ecosystem services, ecosystems, energy, ethanol, humans, land use, pollutants, soybeans, systems engineering, wind turbines
Sustainable design methods focus on reducing or minimizing the demand for ecosystem goods and services, quantified as natural resources and pollutant mitigation. However, the capacity of ecosystems to supply these demands is routinely ignored, leading to decisions that overburden ecological processes and cause environmental damage. This work develops a techno-ecological synergy (TES) design methodology that balances the ecosystem services that can be provided by nature with the ecosystem service demands created by human activities. The methodology includes the design of technological processes that require ecosystem services as well as the ecological processes that supply those services. The TES Design methodology is demonstrated by application to a renewable energy production system that includes both land use activities, such as agriculture and wind turbines, and biomass conversion activities such as corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel. Under TES Design, the system is optimized to balance the demand and supply of ecosystem services, within constraints imposed on energy production and system economics. The system is also optimized under a more conventional approach that reduces ecosystem service demand while neglecting ecosystem service supply and the relevant ecological processes. Results show that only the TES methodology produces system designs in which ecosystem service supply meets or exceeds the demand. TES system designs produce the same amount of energy as conventional designs, have similar system economics, and use land both for energy production and for ecosystem service supply. The additional supply enables the use of intensive agricultural practices with higher ecosystem service demands and higher biomass yields. These results encourage further efforts toward TES Design with additional ecosystem services.