FEW Workshop for Applying Sustainable Nanotechnology to Optimize and Unify Food, Energy and Water Systems

A Workshop Sponsored by the National Science Foundation
Monday, October 19-Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Workshop report

Greg Lowry, Chair
Jason White, Co-chair

We are conducting a two-day invitational workshop with a multidisciplinary group of faculty, students, and researchers from academia, USDA, and the nanotechnology and agrochemical industries 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.

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 offer one of the greatest opportunities toward energy, water, and food security. Recent advances in nanoscale science and engineering present an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the energy and water inputs for food production and provide cost-effective water and energy conservative technologies for reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. 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 FEW 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. 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 FEW nexus. We will 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. The workshop will provide a foundation for the academic community's involvement in supporting and furthering NSF CBET's vision, mission, and goals for research programs at the FEW nexus, and for collaboration in research and education programs, projects, and related activities. It will also help participants to craft better proposals, and contribute to the overall development of young faculty members.