Email Print Share

News Release 16-117

NSF invests $72 million in innovations at nexus of food, energy and water systems

New interdisciplinary, fundamental research to address major challenge of new millennium

Photo Gallery

Take a photo tour of NSF INFEWS-related research.

September 28, 2016

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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

To help secure the future of food, energy, and water systems while maintaining vital ecosystem services, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded more than $72 million for fundamental science and engineering research.

The investments are part of the NSF Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems program, known as INFEWS.

"Demands on food, energy and water will increase in the future as a result of population growth, migration patterns and urbanization in a changing climate," says Roger Wakimoto, assistant director for NSF's Geosciences Directorate. "NSF recognized the challenge ahead of us by creating the INFEWS initiative, which supports research on these interconnected needs. The results from these awards will benefit all of us."

While the complex relationship between energy and water systems has been studied for decades -- and agricultural diversions of water date back much farther -- how these systems interact has become an area of frontier research. Drought and the depletion of aquifers. Shifts in farming between food and fuel crops. Concerns about food waste and the relentless demand for energy for food production. Food processing and transportation. All of these areas have prompted a deeper and broader examination of the linked food-energy-water system.

The outcomes of the INFEWS investments will help decision-makers at every level better serve human needs and protect the natural world. Scientists and policy-makers will gain a new understanding of food-energy-water systems, gather insights from data and innovative modeling, and develop new capabilities from cutting-edge technologies to reduce waste or increase efficiencies.

INFEWS investments will also prepare graduate students to understand and manage the complex interactions of food-energy-water systems, and to draw upon and integrate knowledge across disciplines.

INFEWS investigators will incorporate physical, engineering, geological, biological, social and behavioral processes, as well as cyber elements, into their projects.

"The interconnections and interdependencies associated with the food-energy-water nexus generate critical questions about how the complex, coupled systems and processes of society and the environment function now, and in the future," says Grace Wang, acting assistant director for NSF's Engineering Directorate. "INFEWS research will enable new means of adapting to future challenges."

Award details

INFEWS projects are designed to address one or more of the following four goals:

  • Advance our understanding of the food-energy-water system through quantitative and computational modeling, including support for relevant cyberinfrastructure.
  • Develop real-time, cyber-enabled interfaces that improve understanding of the behavior of food-energy-water systems and increase decision-making capabilities.
  • Enable research that will lead to system innovations and technological solutions to critical food-energy-water problems.
  • Grow the scientific workforce capable of studying and managing food-energy-water systems through education and other professional development opportunities.

This year's awards include:

NSF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA) awards

Through INFEWS, NSF and NIFA will support 17 new awards for an initial investment in Fiscal Years (FY) 2016 and 2017 of more than $40 million. The awards will foster collaboration among research communities and accelerate discovery and innovation at the nexus of food, energy and water systems.

"NIFA is pleased to support this joint effort with the National Science Foundation to better understand the existential threat of the 21st century -- how can we meet the growing demand for food, water and energy while protecting the ecosystems that support them," says NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy.

NSF INFEWS Dear Colleague Letter awards

NSF has invested more than $3 million in nine Dear Colleague Letter awards investigating nitrogen, phosphorus and water. These awards will focus on advancing fundamental knowledge of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, as well as the energy-efficient manufacture and sustainable use of fertilizers for food production. They will also focus on the detection, separation, reclamation and recycling of nitrogen- and phosphorus-containing molecules in and from fresh and ocean waters.

Research Infrastructure Improvement awards

In August, NSF announced seven awards at the nexus of food, energy and water totaling almost $30 million to build research capacity nationwide through the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) awards

In FY 2016, NSF invested nearly $9 million in three NRT awards in the INFEWS research area that will encourage the development and implementation of bold, new and potentially transformative models for graduate education. The NSF NRT INFEWS projects provide students with comprehensive training to advance INFEWS research goals, and foster opportunities to partner with industry, government, community and non-profit stakeholders in food, energy and water systems.

In addition to the awards funded through the programs above, NSF's core programs for research and education also have invested in projects related to the food-energy-water nexus.


Media Contacts
Sarah Bates (ENG), NSF, (703) 292-7738, email:
Cheryl Dybas (GEO), NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

Program Contacts
JoAnn S. Lighty (ENG), NSF, (703) 292-5382, email:
Thomas Torgersen (GEO), NSF, (703) 292-8549, 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 2022 budget of $8.8 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.

mail icon Get News Updates by Email 

Connect with us online
NSF website:
NSF News:
For News Media:
Awards database:

Follow us on social
Twitter: and