Research Project Explores Socioeconomic Aspects of Bioenergy Development

Monday, July 8 2013

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho’s Office of Community Partnerships is launching a research project to better understand the potential socioeconomic effects of using forest biomass to produce energy. 

Researchers will work closely with public and private stakeholders to understand the social and economic opportunities and challenges forest biomass-based energy development poses to the Northwest’s rural communities. The project will provide useful information to public and private decision-makers at the community, state and regional levels. 

A $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture research initiative supports the three-year effort to understand bioenergy development from multiple perspectives. The project’s goal is to determine the benefits and costs of participating in future liquid biofuel production by looking at existing forest biomass availability and community priorities. Researchers also will compare alternative scenarios for forest biomass use to better understand strategies to maximize benefits to their area economies and people.

Project coordinator Debbie Gray said researchers will first focus on gathering input from community stakeholders such as private landowners, forest managers, economic development agencies, elected officials and tribal governments. 

“We want to make sure this research is grounded in community expertise. This project will help answer the questions that regional stakeholders have about prospective markets for forest biomass, including the potential biofuels industry currently being studied through the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance,” Gray said. 

A recent meeting with stakeholders from Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Forest Group, Associated Logging Contractors, Potlatch Corporation, Hancock Forest Management and the Nez Perce Tribe helped UI researchers develop realistic scenarios for forest biomass-based energy development. 

The project’s timeline starts with six months of scenario development, data-gathering and guidance from stakeholders in the northern Rocky Mountain region. The next two years will be dedicated to scenario modeling and research on the social and economic effects different scenarios and technologies could have. During the final six months of the project, UI researchers will take the research results out to communities and stakeholders via community meetings, research reports and newsletters to help decision-makers understand how different activities would impact communities and organizations in the region.

Researchers are collaborating with the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) to develop and implement a stakeholder survey. The survey will gather data to better understand stakeholders’ interests, information needs, and attitudes towards bioenergy development. In May, Soren Newman joined the team as social science research associate responsible for coordinating stakeholder involvement. Newman recently earned a doctorate in natural resource and environmental science at Washington State University. 

The interdisciplinary effort also brings together researchers from the Office of Community Partnerships, College of Business and Economics, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and College of Natural Resources. The project team also will incorporate research by other UI faculty, classes and students

To learn more and keep up-to-date on the project, visit the NARA website at or the Office of Community Partnerships website at

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