About PanAm RCN

This award is funded under NSF's Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) activities, which aim to address the challenges of creating a sustainable world. 

The implications of large-scale biofuels and bioenergy production on environmental systems and social conditions are largely unknown. Yet despite this lack of fundamental sustainability knowledge, there currently is a rapid movement toward the development of biofuels and bioenergy production systems that will likely lead to dramatic changes in extant human and natural systems. These changes may be beneficial or detrimental, and may involve a number of issues such as land ownership and management, creation of new employment opportunities, occupational safety, unforeseen transportation and logistical challenges, impacts on water availability and quality, and potentially many others changes to social and environmental systems.

Goals & Objectives

The goal of this project is to create a network of biofuels / bioenergy researchers and industry / government / NGO practitioners as a core group concerned with sustainable biofuels and bioenergy development across the Americas. The objectives of this project are to:

  1. establish and sustain an international research coordination network with a focus on biofuels / bioenergy sustainability and with a geographic context of the Pan American region
  2. develop coordinated research programs, and
  3. create new knowledge on social, environmental, and economic sustainability implications of large-scale biofuels/bioenergy production from biomass grown in this region.

Research themes 

The main sustainability research themes are:

  1. land rights,
  2. water/energy nexus issues,
  3. biodiversity/ecosystems
  4. energy policy,
  5. life cycle environmental assessment,
  6. food and other systems,
  7. biogeochemical cycles, and
  8. biomass supply transportation logistics.


This RCN will have two main deliverables

  1. a research roadmap report on sustainability of biofuels and bioenergy in the Pan American region, and
  2. a graduate course in sustainability of biofuels/bioenergy to be developed within the network and disseminated to the network through the internet. The students taking this graduate course will emerge with a high-level understanding of a range of sustainability issues for biofuels/bioenergy systems in different political, geographic, and societal contexts in the Pan American region. Lectures will be developed and delivered by content experts from the many participating institutions using an active-learning format where students are required to analyze case studies and lead class room discussions. A series of annual workshops and a major mid-project conference will be the primary means of delivering on these project outcomes. The RCN will be connected through a comprehensive cyber-infrastructure based upon the HubZero platform to support real time dissemination of the RCN products, enable real time collaboration across the network, and provide for the growth of the proposed RCN.

Broader Impacts

This project will result in a number of tangible benefits to the research community engaged in sustainability science and engineering of biofuels and bioenergy. The annual workshops will present a forum for sharing knowledge among top researchers and will lead to a more holistic understanding of future biofuels production systems in several regional contexts in the Pan America zone.

The research roadmap report will be of great interest to government agencies who fund biofuels sustainability research and also to biofuels/bioenergy firms who wish to gain a better understanding of potential changes brought about by large-scale development in the Pan America region. Students will gain tremendously by the existence of this RCN because of the opportunities for research exchanges and cultural experiences.

The graduate course on biofuels/bioenergy sustainability will be broadly disseminated beyond the proposed RCN through publications, presentations, and downloadable lecture materials, including readings, case study assignments, LCA homework assignments, a catalog of LCA term projects, and videos of lectures. The RCN will continuously strive to increase participation by under-represented groups in sustainability research and education.  


The Pan American Biofuels and Bioenergy Sustainability RCN will consist of researchers at universities and other organizations from North America (United States, Canada and Mexico), Central America, and South America.