FEW: Workshop to Identify Opportunities and Challenges for Nanotechnology to Optimize and Unify Food, Energy and Water Systems

  • Lowry, Gregory V. (PI)
  • Wiesner, Mark M.R. (CoPI)
  • Sadik, Omowunmi (CoPI)
  • White, Jason C. (CoPI)
  • Hendren, Christine Ogilvie (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details




With ever increasing global demands for food, water, and energy, there is a critical need in the U.S. to identify sustainable solutions for simultaneously achieving energy, water, and food security. Agriculture accounts for approximately 70 % of all freshwater use, and 10 % of energy consumption, globally. Therefore, the agroecosystem lies at the heart of the energy-water-food nexus, and systems-level improvements in performance offers one of the greatest opportunities towards energy, water, and food security. Recent advances in nanoscale science and engineering offer unprecedented opportunity to reduce the energy and water inputs for food production, and to provide cost-effective, water and energy conservative technologies for reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture.

The PIs propose to convene a multidisciplinary group of faculty, students, and researchers from the USDA and the nanotechnology and agrochemical industries in a 2-day workshop in Pittsburgh, PA to identify the most promising groundbreaking opportunities for nanotechnology to increase sustainability at the food-water-energy nexus, and to identify the most pressing scientific, engineering, and social challenges that must be overcome to realize those benefits. Nanotechnology now offers unprecedented capabilities to clean and recycle water and wastewater, harness solar energy, create novel miniaturized chemical sensors and integrated sensor networks, improve food preservation, and provide targeted delivery of pesticides and nutrients. These advances can provide the tools needed for data-driven precision agriculture, can substantially improve resource utilization, and can lower the environmental footprint of food production. However, realizing this goal will require improved understanding of the complex relationships between food, water, energy, and society. This pioneering workshop will bring together leading scientists and engineers from a range of research fields comprising the food-energy-water nexus to identify the most promising opportunities for nanotechnologies to improve overall agroecosystem performance, and to identify the scientific and engineering challenges currently inhibiting widespread applications of nanotechnology in food production. The PIs will apply the pseudo-nominal group technique during the workshop to develop a prioritized list of the most promising emerging opportunities for nanotechnology at the food-energy-water nexus, and to elaborate on how these opportunities should direct research efforts toward the most critical research needs, and potential impacts, in the next five to ten years. This workshop experience will foster dialogue among diverse participants around the most pressing scientific obstacles to implementing nanotechnology for sustainable solutions at the food-energy-water nexus, while also drawing on understanding of the myriad economic, infrastructural, and social constraints that also define the boundaries of both challenges and potential opportunities for within the food-energy-water nexus

Effective start/end date7/1/156/30/16


  • National Science Foundation: $58,358.00


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