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Reducing the Environmental Impacts of FEW Systems In and Around Cities

As population, urbanization, and affluence increase globally, cities and the areas around them have become concentrated intersections of food, energy, and water systems (FEWS). With growing demand and increasingly limited supplies of each of these resources, their future availability is becoming more uncertain.

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Abstract:

As population, urbanization, and affluence increase globally, cities and the areas around them have become concentrated intersections of food, energy, and water systems (FEWS). With growing demand and increasingly limited supplies of each of these resources, their future availability is becoming more uncertain. Fortunately, there remain significant untapped opportunities to harvest the wastes from each sector thereby recovering resources for use in other sectors and allowing the system as a whole to operate more cost-efficiently and with fewer environmental impacts. For example, food waste and urban wastewater can produce nutrients for fertilizers and energy in the form of electricity, and water from agricultural drainage can be used to replenish groundwater aquifers. Further study and modeling of integrated resource recovery and reuse, utilizing a systems approach, is urgently needed to identify the most promising pathways towards a more sustainable and resilient future. This project will identify the best ways to reduce the environmental impacts of FEWS in urban, suburban, and periurban areas. New data and insights generated by this research will inform the modeling of resilient and cost-effective options. Findings and products of the research will promote innovation toward more effective and integrated management of FEWS resources.

This project will create an integrated food-energy-water systems (FEWS) framework to identify spatially- and process-specific reductions in life-cycle energy and water use, economic costs, environmental impacts, and solutions for resource recovery in urban, suburban, and periurban areas. We will consider current and projected future conditions, tradeoffs, and associated uncertainties and sensitivities in these systems.

Cognizant of the policy and regulatory environment, we will develop models of FEWS processes and program decision-support tools to characterize FEWS efficiencies and resilience, as well as identify weak points and prioritize future areas for analysis and investment. The cutting-edge geospatial analysis, logistics optimization, mathematical meta-modeling, and uncertainty and sensitivity quantification methods used should help pave the way for an entirely new interdisciplinary field of FEWS analysis that will provide the fundamental tools and insights to understand and engineer the sustainable and resilient interconnected FEWS of the future.

The project unites researchers from diverse disciplines at two collaborating universities to research understudied issues associated with food production and processing, recovery and reuse of FEWS resources, as well as to develop integrated FEWS process and product models and to create user-friendly tools to support reduction of energy and environmental impacts. The research will fill significant data gaps and increase understanding of synergies, feedbacks, tradeoffs, and barriers to innovation.

FEWS stakeholders will be engaged to facilitate technology transfer between urban water and food sectors to increase water, energy, and nutrient recovery while removing barriers in siloed approaches to FEWS management. New technologies and policy recommendations will help USP areas and agricultural actors overcome barriers to integrating their resource recovery activities and realize environmental and economic benefits. Models and tools will allow users to determine cost- and environmentally efficient alternatives that include an examination of associated tradeoffs to support informed investments in FEWS sectors. The work has significant potential to offset the environmental consequences of unsustainable water use in dry regions, nutrient discharge to sensitive receiving waters, and burning of fossil fuels. Case study analysis of resource recovery in FEWS to support urban, suburban, and periurban agriculture under a variety of conditions will identify environmentally beneficial scenarios. The project will also contribute to more informed public policy by using data science and visualization tools to convey technical information in a manner understandable to decision makers. Interdisciplinary courses at Berkeley will teach students about FEWS interactions at undergraduate and graduate level. K-12 outreach efforts through a hands-on teaching module to primary grades, FEWS training, a FEWSYouth Summit for high school students – especially underrepresented minorities living at the urban-agricultural interface – and research experiences for teachers will spread and embed FEWS knowledge more broadly.

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