"This study will make great strides toward helping us understand those effects and assist in the development of a more effective biomass energy industry," Adolphson said.

Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds research projects on sustainable bioenergy through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, this integrative research aims to explain not only whether people support or oppose bioenergy development, but also what led them to form their opinions and what policies, institutions and events may have influenced their decisions.

"USDA and President Obama are committed to producing clean energy right here at home, to not only break our dependence on foreign oil, but also boost rural economies," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These projects will give us the scientific information needed to support biofuel production and create co-products that will enhance the overall value of a bio-based economy.

“Today, with a strong and diversified U.S. agricultural sector, the American automobile industry has a greater incentive for expanding use of bio-based products while supporting good-paying jobs here in the United States."

The researchers stress that as alternative fuel and sustainable industry grow, it will become increasingly important for potential companies to identify and understand the social and economic factors working for and against new ventures.

"This research has the potential to inform the policy process, but we are also pioneering a new method that is applicable to other sustainability issues," Brosius said.

"There is a lot of activity right now in bioenergy with different plants being opened and a lot of proposed plants using a combination of private investment and government incentives to get started," said John Schelhas, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service and project co-investigator.

"We're looking at specific sites where bioenergy development is taking place, and we're interested in talking with community members and landowners who have various degrees of investment and interest in bioenergy."

Ultimately, the researchers hope that this project will not only yield important information about the future of bioenergy in the South but also serve as a springboard for future research designed to examine the social complexities of bioenergy development by investigating diverse perspectives and interests within the communities in which these new and proposed facilities are embedded.

"It's essential to understand the way people perceive, understand and talk about biofuels as bioenergy industries develop in this region," Schelhas said. "And it seems like we will be able to provide more clarity about that."