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Washington State University
WSU Research Sustainable Resources

Multimillion dollar grant to support nuclear waste cleanup

waste barrels

Research probes how radiation changes nuclear waste over time

Safe management of nuclear waste is vital to national security and a primary mission of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Approximately 300 million liters of highly radioactive wastes are stored in underground tanks at the Hanford Site in Washington and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Wastes stored in tanks at Hanford have been there for decades. Radiation present in the wastes drives chemical changes that are neither well understood nor predictable. DOE estimates it will take at least 50 years and $300 billion to process the wastes into forms fit for disposal using … » More …

Supplying food, energy, and water for future generations

A closeup of a woman

Helping the Columbia Basin withstand climate change

In Washington’s Columbia River basin, climate change has diminished snow storage, a significant source of summer water for the region. At the same time, population growth is escalating demand for water.

The basin is home to farms and ranches that feed the state. Hydropower generates more than half of the Pacific Northwest’s electricity, most coming from the Columbia River.1 Resources must be deftly managed to develop the region’s resilience to climate change.

Population growth and climate change strain interdependent food, energy and water systems. WSU researchers have long studied each of these systems alone. A recent $3 million grant from the National … » More …

Innovation for Washington’s signature industry

A closeup of the top of an apple

WSU created a brand new apple variety called Cosmic Crisp™, known for its excellent flavor, good texture, and superior storage. Cosmic Crisp™ is a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp.

More than 600,000 trees are expected to be planted this spring, and growers have ordered over 5 million trees for 2018. First harvest will be in 2019. Fruit will become widely available to consumers in 2020.

Cosmic Crisp™ is the latest example of WSU’s world-class tree fruit breeding program and the University’s commitment to the state’s tree-fruit industry.

Growing cyberforests to predict the impacts of climate change

Hardwood forrest at sunrise

Realistic 3-D simulation helps forest managers anticipate disturbances

Drought, heat, and other irregular conditions spawned by climate change take a toll on tree ecosystems. How, exactly, will those stressors affect forests in the future? Predictions have been difficult—until now.

WSU Vancouver mathematicians Nikolay Strigul and Jean Lienard have created a 3-D computer simulation to visualize how tree ecosystems can be altered by factors such as carbon dioxide levels, wildfires, and drought. The simulator lets forest managers predict wildfires and other disturbances. If a forest is destroyed, the tool can help determine the species of trees and ecological factors necessary to reestablish it.

The computer model … » More …

Wood-based biofuel powers cross-country flight

A closeup of a man fueling an airplane

WSU-led coalition partners with Alaska Airlines for the world’s first commercial flight using fuel made from forest residuals.

In November 2016 a commercial airplane powered by jet fuel made from woody biomass took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The historic Alaska Airlines flight to Washington, D.C. marked the culmination of five years of collaborative research exploring renewable, alternative jet fuel. Led by Washington State University, the research initiative laid the groundwork for development of an aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest.

As the world’s finite supply of fossil fuels dwindles, availability of renewable sources of jet fuel will become increasingly important. Woody biomass is … » More …

Managing reservoirs for the health of the environment

A landscape photo of ross lake

Water bodies produce more methane than landfills

Reservoirs dot the Pacific Northwest, providing water for irrigation, fish conservation, hydropower and recreation. Yet these freshwater bodies also contribute to climate change by releasing methane—a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide—into the air.

The use of fertilizers, fossil fuels and other practices common to industrial civilizations increases the discharge of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous into lakes, streams and coastal areas, causing algae growth, depleting oxygen and posing a hazard to human health. By slowing the flow of water through watersheds, thereby providing favorable conditions for algal growth and sediment trapping, reservoirs can greatly alter … » More …

Conserving water, improving Washington’s white wine

A closeup of green grapes growing

WSU researchers inform irrigation strategies

Washington is a leading producer of Riesling and Chardonnay wine grapes. In fact, these two grapes account for 75 percent of the white wine grape production in the state.

In arid eastern Washington, where most of the state’s wine grapes are grown, efficient irrigation is the name of the game. But it can be particularly challenging for white wine grapes. If a grower anticipates a heat wave, he or she can have a hard time figuring out how much to irrigate. Overwatering could result in too much canopy growth at the expense of berry production, and not enough water could … » More …

Organic farming: A fruitful alternative

A closeup of David Crowder

Study compares profitability of organic and conventional agriculture

To be sustainable, organic agriculture must be profitable. How lucrative is organic farming relative to conventional methods? The answer may surprise you.

Soil sciences professor John Reganold teamed with WSU entomologist David Crowder to compare the financial performance of organic and conventional farming. The pair synthesized data across studies spanning a 40-year period. They compared costs, gross returns, cost/benefit ratios, and net present values—a measure that accounts for inflation.

Their study heralds organic farming as the clear profitability frontrunner. The authors consulted with 3 agricultural economists to confirm their findings, which were published in the Proceedings of … » More …

Putting a price on nature’s services to agriculture

A photo of John Reganold inspecting plants

Scientists calculate the economic value of organic farming processes

On organic farms, nature does a lot of the heavy lifting. Earthworms turn the soil. Insects prey on pests. Cover crops supply organic matter to the soil and make nitrogen available to plants. Farmers who take advantage of these natural processes can sidestep expenditures on costly and less eco-friendly alternatives.

In dollars and cents, exactly how much is Mother Nature’s labor worth?

Washington State University soil scientist John Reganold was part of an international team of scholars that put a sticker price on the benefits that nature provides agriculture. In a study funded by the New … » More …

Ensuring a reliable power supply

A closeup of Anjan Bose

WSU teams with the U.S. Department of Energy in “smart grid” research and education

On a hot August day in 2003, a falling tree branch in Ohio triggered a power outage that rippled across 8 U.S. states and into Canada, cutting power to 50 million people. As transportation ground to a halt, food spoiled, and indoor heat soared to intolerable highs, the critical need for a reliable energy supply became irrefutably clear. Today, the electrical grid has the smarts to avert such a disaster, in part because of research conducted at Washington State University.

WSU leads the nation’s efforts to increase the reliability and efficiency … » More …