(Invited) Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS) and Beyond

Monday, 2 October 2017: 14:30
National Harbor 10 (Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center)
J. W. Jones (National Science Foundation)
Food, energy, and water are essential to survival and well-being of humankind. Recently, there have been shortages of these essential resources that led to food and energy price spikes and fresh water shortages. These shortages and price spikes have occurred at different spatial and temporal scales and in different contexts; some have even led to social unrest that threatens food, energy, and/or water security. Such insecurity issues are likely to worsen in the future due to continued population growth and limited sources of fossil fuels, water, and land. Furthermore, a changing climate and threats to soil health in many areas could alter our capabilities to provide these necessities.

Most research has been conducted to assess these food, energy, and water security issues individually. Such studies are mostly done without considering important interactions that occur among food, energy, and water subsystems, limiting the robustness of results and solutions. In response to the need to more holistically address these resources, the National Science Foundation (NSF) developed a cross-discipline initiative called INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems). FEW systems incorporate physical, natural, biological, and social/behavioral processes in addition to cyber elements. Investigations of these complex systems may produce discoveries that cannot emerge from research on food or energy or water systems alone. It is the synergy among these components in the context of sustainability that will open innovative science and engineering pathways to produce new knowledge, novel technologies, and predictive capabilities to solve the challenges of scarcity and variability.

Although several established NSF programs prioritize this area of research, NSF’s major emphasis is a multi-Directorate solicitation for proposals to address FEW systems (https://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?WT.z_pims_id=505241&ods_key=nsf17530) with 3 tracks: understanding and modeling, cyber systems for decision support, and solution inspired research. NSF and USDA-NIFA jointly manage this initiative.

This presentation will highlight some INFEWS projects as well as some of the challenges associated with these large transdisciplinary research efforts. It will also include comments about some of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas for future research investments and another multi-Directorate, multi-Agency transdisciplinary effort that is being considered.