Rob’s research is focused on sustainability, resource use, and environmental change in the developing world. He uses an interdisciplinary approach that places equal emphasis on qualitative and quantitative methods across a range of scales, from local to regional and global. Past research efforts explored the social ecology of Kenya’s charcoal commodity chain and examined the health and welfare implications of household energy choices in the developing world. More recently, Bailis’ research has explored the social and environmental sustainability of novel biofuel crops such as Jatropha curcas, Salicornia bigelovii, and macaúba palm. This research involves several international collaborations including partnerships with Luephana University in Lüneburg, Germany and the Federal University of Tocantins in Central Brazil.
The German partnership is a “Platform for Sustainable Biokerosene Production”, which analyzes and existing concepts of sustainable plant oil production and attempts to put them into practice. The partnership in Brazil explores similar questions of sustainability specifcially in the context of oilseed production in the Legal Amazon.
Rob is also interested in life cycle approaches to bioenergy impact assessment. These analyses have been carried out on oilseeds in Brazil as well as forest-based bioenergy in the southern US. The latter work is part of a fruitful partnership with Puneet Dwivedi, a YCEI postdoctoral fellow in Rob's lab from 2010-2012 who will soon be joining the faculty of the University of Goergia's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources as an Assistant Professor.
In addition to the research on modern biofuels, Rob continues to carry out research on household energy. This includes several research projects focused on improved wood-burning stove dissemination in Western Honduras. The stoves are promoted by Proyecto Mirador, a local organization that has installed over 45,000 fuel-efficient stoves in rural communities throughout the region since 2010. Rob’s research, which receives financial support from the Overlook International Foundation, examines multiple aspects of the project including the impact on local forest resources, welfare impacts of stove adoption, and flows of stove-related information through social networks.
Rob is also PI for a project funded by the UN Foundation through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. This project is carrying out a global assessment of woodfuel sustainability with specific case studies carried out in Honduras, India, and Kenya. Project partners include the Centers for Ecosystem Research and Research in Environmental Geography at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Finally, members of Rob's research group have conducted fieldwork on biofuels in Brazil, India, and Mexico. He also supervises doctoral students researching a range of related topics including climate change adaptation in forest-dependent communities India, indigenous opposition to petroleum concessions in Peru, voluntary carbon markets in China, and benefit flows from carbon finance in least developed countries.