Nebraska Joins Multistate Agriculture Effort to Discover Benefits of Bioplastic | Nebraska today


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers are part of a new $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop bioplastics for use in agriculture over the next four years.

The project includes a consortium of 15 researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The Nebraska team is led by Karina Schoengold, associate professor of agricultural economics and faculty member at the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute. Chittaranjan Ray, director of the Nebraska Water Center, played a pivotal role in building the team.

“This idea grew out of conversations with nearby researchers in Kansas and South Dakota,” Ray said.

In turn, the researchers wondered what they could do that was really new. Their response was “Bioplastics with Regenerative Agricultural Properties,” or BioWRAP. The project aims to reduce the use of plastics, herbicides, fertilizers and associated environmental impacts in agricultural production by creating an all-in-one bioplastic system that can better manage weeds, add nutrients to soils , improve soil and plant health and save water. .

BioWRAP draws on a range of scientific disciplines that fall into three main categories: engineering biopolymers, enhancing agroecosystems, and assessing broader impacts. The general concept of bioplastics is to develop biodegradable plastics using renewable biological substances rather than petroleum-derived finite sources.

The team will study three types of biopolymers: polyhydroxyalkanoate-based, protein-based and hybrid polymers. Ultimately, they will apply these bioplastics to field sites to assess their degradation and ability to improve nitrogen-fixing bacteria, soil moisture, weed suppression, irrigation efficiency, temperature management and improving the quality of agricultural products.

Second, the team will investigate how bioplastics can improve agroecosystem health. Weed control is the cornerstone of this bucket. The recent increase in herbicide resistant weeds has heightened concerns about environmental contamination, human health risks and productivity losses. Further research is planned on soil and water quality, life cycle assessment and resource use and impact inventory. Vaishali Sharda, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Kansas State University, will lead this area and is also the principal investigator of BioWRAP.

“New types of locally sourced bioplastics that completely break down into safe byproducts can be made,” Sharda said. “These new materials could provide farmers with an environmentally friendly way to control weeds, fertilize crops, protect soil and water resources, and work with nature to better manage their fields.”

The final bucket revolves around wider impacts. Under Schoengold’s leadership, the team will examine product adoption, rural sustainability, ecosystem services, markets and sustainable data provision. The team hypothesizes that – if implemented carefully and strategically – BioWRAP will socio-economically strengthen rural areas through new biorefineries, quarries, income and market access. .

The final common thread is student training and workforce development. Beyond the 15 participating professors, the consortium will include three postdoctoral researchers, nine undergraduate students, 12 graduate students, 40 high school students and 40 college students. Activities include webinars, workshops, curriculum development, summer research camps, and outreach to tribal, female, and underrepresented communities.

In addition to Schoengold and Ray, other Nebraska teammates include Erin Haacker, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences; Loren Isom, Deputy Director, Center for Industrial Agricultural Products; Christopher Proctor, Associate Extension Educator in Agronomy and Horticulture; Daran Rudnick, associate professor of biological systems engineering; and Mark Wilkins, director, Center for Industrial Agricultural Products.

The project is funded by NSF‘s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Infrastructure Improvement Program Track Track 2. Successful projects involve a consortium of three or more EPSCoR jurisdictions (states) and can receive up to $1.5 million per year for a maximum of four years.

BioWRAP will launch in early 2022 and run through 2025. During this period, each university will receive $2 million in project funding and host an annual meeting of consortium stakeholders, advisory board, body research faculty, post-docs and graduate students, undergraduate and secondary school students.


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