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New research into how to provide food, energy and water security for Earth's increasing population

NSF awards $36.6 million in new food-energy-water system grants

The number of humans alive on our planet today is some 7.5 billion. By 2087, projections show, 11 billion people will be living on Earth.

How will we continue to have a sustainable supply of food, energy and water, and protect the ecosystems that provide essential "services" for humans?

To help answer these questions, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to award $46.6 million in new grants through the joint NSF-NIFA program on Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS).

NSF grants total $36.6 million; NIFA awards, $10 million. NSF directorates and offices supporting INFEWS are the Directorates for Geosciences; Engineering; Computer & Information Science & Engineering; Mathematical & Physical Sciences; Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences; Office of International Science and Engineering; and Office of Integrative Activities.

"Food, energy and water have long been studied independently or in pairs, but not all three at once," says William Easterling, NSF assistant director for Geosciences. "Now, novel ways of examining all three together are yielding important new knowledge that will help us achieve food, water and energy security even with further population growth."

Adds Dawn Tilbury, NSF assistant director for Engineering, "Research at the food-energy-water nexus enables us to build more resilient and sustainable systems while maintaining the vitality of ecosystems. To create innovative solutions to food, energy and water-related challenges, we must understand the interconnections and interdependencies involved in the complex and highly coupled systems and processes that affect society and the environment."

Researchers have found that food-energy-water systems are intricately linked to each other and to the planet’s ecosystems through complex interactions. With an increasing human population, there is a growing need for new approaches to understanding these interactions and how they will respond to population growth, land-use change, climate change and other factors.

Food, energy and water are, at times, in a three-way tug of war. Land-use decisions, climate change and increasing urbanization often pit one against the other. The goal of the INFEWS program is to minimize simultaneous risks to the security of food, energy and water supplies.

Hotter summers, for example, mean more power demand from air-conditioning use and, in drier climates, less water in rivers for hydropower production and for ecosystems.