Sustainability: Biosphere2 Conference

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A national workshop is being held at Biosphere2, the self-contained facility in Southern Arizona that contains several artificial ecosystems. The workshop will include academics and business leaders who will be looking at how to deliver food, energy and water more efficiently. It’s the first of several national workshops sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Ardeth Barnhart, program director of renewable energy at the University of Arizona and Kim Ogden, professor of chemical and environmental engineering, also at the U of A, will discuss the conference and its goals.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Sustainability" looks at a workshop being held at Biosphere-2 in Southern Arizona that contains several artificial ecosystems. The workshop will focus on the delivery of food, energy and water. It's the first of several national workshops sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Here with more is Ardeth Barnhart, program director of Renewable Energy at the University of Arizona, and Kim Ogden, professor of chemical and environmental engineering, also at the U. of A. Good to have you both here and thanks for coming up and talking to us. What is this conference all about?

Ardeth Barnhart: Thanks for having us. This conference is really designed to bring together experts from across the country in industry, academia and government, to think about the big questions we need to answer to address the energy, water and food opportunities and big challenges in the future.

Ted Simons: These are scientific engineering, not just a bunch of people talking, this is kind of machines on the ground kind of stuff, huh?

Ardeth Barnhart: That's right. If you imagine our population is growing, which means we need to use more energy, which requires more water to use more energy, we need to understand how to efficiently deliver these kinds of systems. How we can work with local communities to understand their needs and deliver actual scientific solutions and technologies to help them.

Ted Simons: How is this different from the way they are addressed now?

Kim Ogden: We are looking at an interdisciplinary group as issues that are very important to the United States. Looking at California issues, the newest ones with the water problems in California right now. Here in Arizona we're kind of like the perfect place to do the research. We have strong researchers at the state Universities. And through research in all different types of departments. Anything from engineering to science to policy and social science we can work together as a nice team with the utilities and companies in the state to actual solve the problems so we can enjoy the water and energy and food that we have today and the future.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the challenge of delivering electricity with less electricity.

Ardeth Barnhart: And less water to cool the plants that produce that electricity. They also move water around the state. We're trying to understand how water and energy can work together so there's actually a net zero kind of balance. So we can produce what we need without using more. And what are the kinds of scientific questions and engineering questions, and how do we translate that to our everyday use and to our decision makers so they can understand how to use it?

Ted Simons: Can you give us an example of those kinds of questions?

Kim Ogden: So the area I work in right now is microalgae or blue-green algae in your swimming pool. But it's also a great fish food, and when gas isn't $2 a gallon it can be used for fuel. How can we do it with recycled water, reclaimed water type things, how can we minimize the amount of water need to do make a food product in the food chain, for example.

Ted Simons: Obviously it's great to work on these systems but they have to be resilient and reliable, that's job one, right?

Ardeth Barnhart: Some of the experts in the Universities are working with industry to try and understand how to deliver better forecasting for instance so, farmers can understand when is the best time to plant a certain food product. Put sensors in the ground so they can tell when it needs to be watered.

Ted Simons: Why the biosphere for something like this?

Kim Ogden: It's a unique facility, a research facility the University of Arizona runs. You can do a lot of studies you want to at that research facility. We've turned it from a little different kind of place to a really nice research facility.

Ted Simons: As far as the societal and economic impact, is this something we'll hear about and worry about down the road? Or is down the road right now?

Kim Ogden: I guess it depends on who you talk to but I think it's probably closer than we want it to be.

Ted Simons: What do you hope folks take out of conference?

Ardeth Barnhart: To understand the challenges a little better and more importantly, how we're going address them. Addressing them needs to be made in R&D and understanding opportunities in developing systems to be used by them.

Ted Simons: And the event is when, again?

Ardeth Barnhart: Wednesday through Friday at the Biosphere-2.

Ted Simons: Sounds very interesting -- And again, when people listen to this and it all sounds kind of pie in the sky, you're going move the pie down from the sky, right?

Kim Ogden: We would like to. It gives so many opportunities for our students. It allows students we mentor, undergraduates and graduates alike to be involved in research and working on problems of interest to them so they are excited about tomorrow.

Ted Simons: We just talked about Universities and how important they are. It is important to have those Universities involved isn't it?

Ardeth Barnhart: It certainly is. We need to mix with other Universities and government and industry and work together.

Ted Simons: We do appreciate it.

Kim Ogden: Thank you for having us.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon." You have a great evening.

Ardeth Barnhart:Program Director of Renewable Energy, University of Arizona; Kim Ogden:Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of Arizona;

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