Biofuels, Sustainability, and Geospatial Information Technologies

  • Sustainable Agriculture

    Biofuels, Sustainability, and Geospatial Information Technologies to Enhance Experimental Learning Paradigm for Precision Agriculture Project

    NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Precision agriculture has been identified as a relevant approach of coping with the food demands of the growing population in an environmentally friendly manner. Prior support from the USDA has established the basic foundation for precision agriculture related infrastructure at UMES, which has provided the launching pad for several related endeavors, including a NASA supported synergistic project with the acronym AIRSPACES (Aerial Imaging and Remote Sensing for Precision Agriculture and Environmental Stewardship). Both of the ECPA (Environmentally Conscious Precision Agriculture) and AIRSPACES projects have benefitted from the enthusiastic involvement of students. Regular discussions and meetings of students, farm personnel, project PIs, and USDA and NASA collaborators have provided a fertile platform to advance project goals and generate future plans. Farm equipment used in the ECPA project, as well as the airplane used for remote sensing efforts integrated with the project, currently utilizes fossil fuels. While it is the goal of the project team to continue to address the efficiency of production agriculture by integration of geospatial information technologies and nutrient management efforts, the future thrust will also include replacing the fuel needs of farm equipment with biodiesel instead of petroleum-based diesel, as well as exploring environmentally friendly alternatives for the remote sensing needs of the project.

    Drawing inspiration from the success of the student-driven efforts for producing biodiesel from used cooking oil at several other campuses, a significant component of the student experiential learning paradigm outlined in the new phase of the project will center on similar efforts. Under the supervision of the project leaders and the oversight of safety personnel, the students will coordinate with dining services, physical plant, and the farm shop to manage the logistics of the project. The present scope will be limited to utilizing the biodiesel produced for the farm equipment. Future possibilities for using the biodiesel for steam generation and other university vehicles will also be explored.

    U.S. policy makers are also promoting use of biofuels for the aviation industry. As such, the use of biofuel for remote sensing from manned airplanes for the remote sensing needs of the project is also a possibility; however, the present focus is to develop cost effective and environmentally friendly kite-based aerial imaging platforms for the remote sensing needs of small farms. The course titled "Advanced Technologies for Agriculture and Environmental Sciences" that was developed with prior USDA support will be enriched by the new dimensions outlined above and will integrate content related to biofuels, climate change, kite aerial photography, and carbon and nitrogen cycles along with the current emphasis on geospatial information technologies and precision agriculture. The course will be open to all STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics) majors and will help attract students to participate in the experiential learning efforts throughout the year.

    FUNDING:  NIFA - Capacity Building Grant

    CONTACT:  Dr. Abhijit Nagchaudhuri, Professor, Engineering and Aviation Science