Implementing public policies often involves navigating an array of choices that have economic and environmental consequences that are difficult to quantify due to the complexity of multiple system interactions. Implementing the mandate for cellulosic biofuel production in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and reducing hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico by reducing riverine nitrate-N loads represent two such cases that overlap in the Mississippi River Basin. To quantify the consequences of these interactions, a system of systems (SoS) model was developed that incorporates interdependencies among the various subsystems, including biofuel refineries, transportation, agriculture, water resources and crop/ethanol markets. The model allows examination of the impact of imposing riverine nitrate-N load limits on the biofuel production system as a whole, including land use change and infrastructure needs. The synergies of crop choice (first versus second generation biofuel crops), infrastructure development, and environmental impacts (streamflow and nitrate-N load) were analyzed to determine the complementarities and trade-offs between environmental protection and biofuel development objectives. For example, the results show that meeting the cellulosic biofuel target in the RFS using Miscanthus x giganteus reduces system profits by 8% and reduces nitrate-N loads by 12% compared to the scenario without a mandate. However, greater water consumption by Miscanthus is likely to reduce streamflow with potentially adverse environmental consequences that need to be considered in future decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11932-11940
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Sep 8 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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