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News Release 15-090

New grants foster research on food, energy and water: a linked system

Amid population growth, drought and increased urbanization, understanding food, energy and water availability is increasingly important

Landscape photos and text, Conserving Water - Producing Energy - Sustaining Food

How food, water and energy systems interact: a photo gallery.

August 14, 2015

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

In a world where a growing number of people lack food, water and sources of energy, providing these resources has become a challenge.

To find new answers, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded 17 grants, totaling $1.2 million, to support workshops on the interactions of food, energy and water, or FEW. Additionally, $6.4 million will supplement existing grants, enabling scientists to conduct additional research.

Much of the globe's human population depends on irrigation-supported agriculture, which in turn requires power to move water from place to place. But water has dwindled--in some places significantly. Changing land-use practices, increased urbanization, population growth and climate variability create stresses on water, energy and agricultural resources.

Addressing these issues requires novel ways of understanding the complexity of food production, energy requirements, and water availability and distribution. The FEW awards seek to explore solutions.

"Understanding interactions between humans and the environment represents a grand scientific challenge, especially in the case of the food-water-energy nexus," says Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences. "This scientific challenge also encompasses critical policy and management questions for our future, making it a national priority."

The grants are funded by NSF's directorates for Biological Sciences; Computer & Information Science & Engineering; Education & Human Resources; Engineering; Geosciences; Mathematical & Physical Sciences; Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences; and Office of Integrative Activities.

Basic research needed on links among food, energy, water

The FEW workshops will each involve 30-80 participants. The workshops are intended to facilitate partnerships among researchers in the natural sciences, physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and computing and engineering.

Their goal is to find innovative approaches to understanding food-energy-water systems, such as those found in the changing conditions of California, and in large international river systems. Researchers will also study technologies that can create resource efficiencies, reduce waste and enhance reuse.

"The need for fundamental engineering research in energy, water, biotechnology and smart systems, and in research projects focusing on sustainable water and energy use, will only grow as these systems become more interdependent," says Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for Engineering.

Outgrowth of NSF sustainability investment

In 2010, NSF established the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) investment area to establish a research foundation for the capabilities and technologies required to mitigate and adapt to the environmental changes that threaten Earth's sustainability.

FEW emerged from SEES and earlier NSF investments, in recognition of the importance of understanding the interconnected and interdependent systems involving food, energy and water.

The FEW workshops, principal investigators and institutions are listed below:

2015 NSF Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Awards

Nada Assaf-Anid, New York Institute of Technology: Food, Energy and Water Nexus in Sustainable Cities

David Ebert, Purdue University: Technology and Information Fusion Needs to Address the Food, Energy, Water Systems (FEWS) Nexus Challenges

Mekonnen Gebremichael, University of California-Los Angeles: Toward Food, Energy and Water Security in California under Changing Conditions: the Nexus Perspective

G.W. Holtgrieve, University of Washington: Workshop to explore the nexus between food, energy and water in a large international river system

Elena Irwin, Ohio State University: Workshop on Migration, Climate Change and the Resilience of Regional Food, Water, and Energy Systems

Catherine Kling, Iowa State University: Coupling Economic Models with Agronomic, Hydrologic, and Bioenergy Models for Sustainable Food, Energy, and Water Systems

Gregory Lowry, Carnegie-Mellon University: Workshop to Identify Opportunities and Challenges for Nanotechnology to Optimize and Unify Food, Energy and Water Systems

Richard McNider, University of Alabama-Huntsville: Planned Migration as a Strategy to Sustain Agricultural Production

Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, University of Maryland: Development and Application of Analytical Tools in Support of Food-Energy-Water Nexus Planning

Joshua Newell, University of Michigan: "Scaling Up" Urban Agriculture to Mitigate Food-Energy-Water Impacts

Matthew Platz, University of Hawaii: Closing the Human Phosphorus Cycle

Matthew Potts, University of California-Berkeley: Developing Intelligent Food, Energy, and Water Systems (DIFEWS)

Mary Rezac, Kansas State University: Water- and Energy-efficient Food Production: Solutions for America's Bread Basket

John Sabo, Arizona State University: Food-Energy-Water infrastructure systems, engineering solutions and institutions

Darlene Schuster, American Institute of Chemical Engineers: Food-Energy-Water Nexus Workshop to Develop System Approaches and Sustainability Metrics for Evaluation

Shashi Shekhar, University of Minnesota: A Workshop to identify interdisciplinary Data Science approaches and challenges to enhance understanding of Interactions of Food Systems and Water Systems

James Stone, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology: A sustainable rural framework workshop for the upper Great Plains


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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