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INFEWS: U.S.-China: An Integrated Technology-Environment-Economic Modeling Platform for FEW Systems in Arid Regions


The Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Nexus, from a global perspective, contains closely interconnected resource systems of food, energy, and water. As the world's population expands to an expected 9 billion by 2050, there will be an urgent demand to balance different resources across these three systems to achieve different user goals without putting undue strain on the ecosystems that provide these resources. This research project will utilize both wet waste conversion and renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to produce electricity for harvesting and filtering saline water for crop irrigation and algae production in soils not normally used for such purposes. The goal of the project is to create a new modeling platform that ingrates technology, environment, and economics using research inputs from two different teams in this collaboration - one from the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign (UIUC) and one from the China Agricultural University (CAU). This new platform could potentially be used to identify options for harnessing underutilized resources and renewable energy to produce food, particularly in arid region FEW systems (AR-FEWS). The PIs plan to test the hypothesis that harvesting non-conventional sources of water for high-value crop irrigation will be cost effective and environmentally feasible in arid regions with access to renewable energy sources. If successful, this research could strengthen FEW systems in the US and other countries in under-used arid regions by identifying economically and environmentally viable technologies to produce food and energy while conserving water resources.<br/><br/>Using research inputs from the U.S. and China teams, this project will develop a seamless system modeling tool that integrates technological, environmental, and economic components to conduct holistic quantitative analysis of AR-FEWS. A particular focus will be put on arid regions with marginal land and water and plentiful renewable energy sources where the synergies in resources production and use can be enhanced. The PIs will define key parameters of the integrated system to develop process-based models, including optimization for hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) conversion of wet biowaste and algae, wastewater treatment methods needed for algal biomass and hydroponic food production, and characteristics of food produced hydroponically with wastewater. The process models will be integrated with environmental and economic analyses at the regional scale to identify technological solutions and policy options for harnessing the potential of marginal resources and renewable energy to produce food in arid regions. The integrated modeling tool will be tested in arid areas in Northwestern China. This project will be aligned with an ongoing NSF-funded INFEWS project (INFEWS #1739788, Advancing FEW System Resilience in the Corn Belt by Integrated Technology-Environment-Economics Modeling of Nutrient Cycling) to develop a generic modeling tool that will be used to identify robust optimal solutions for sustainable and resilient FEW systems and assess the feasibility of technology adoption at regional scales.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Yuanhui Zhang, Paul Davidson; Ximing Cai
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
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