INFEWS/T3: Social-ecological-technological solutions to waste reuse in food, energy, and water systems (ReFEWS)
In a changing world the systems we have traditionally relied on to deliver food, energy and water are now challenged by increasing risks of disruption from climate, extreme events and deteriorating infrastructure. However, advances in our ability to re-use materials and improve the efficiency of their transformation now allow us to develop innovative solutions toward an integrated production landscape for the food, energy and water system (FEWS). This project uses the coupled agricultural landscapes and communities of the Upper Snake River in the American West to measure the use of energy inputs, internal flows, and outputs of the FEWS (including industrial and urban systems) to determine how best to re-claim and re-use matter and energy flows (ReFEWS).
Working closely with a Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG), consisting of community, industry and agency mangers, the research team downscales food, energy and water dynamics so as to apply the best reclamation technologies in right place at the right time. The team then models the costs and trade-offs of applying these technologies at the landscape scale. The ReFEWS project is in direct response to national policy goals that seek to create resilient communities and landscapes as a way to promote sustainable food and energy production, and ultimately security. To ensure that the research advances basic science while ensuring translatable products, the research team uses a three tiered system of academic research, stakeholder engagement and coordinated education and outreach.
The research characterizes the efficiency of the socio-metabolism of the Upper Snake FEWS by modeling three components:
the optimization parameters of nutrient, energy, and water use and reuse;
robustness, or the capacity to modify the FEWS through technological intervention under a range of environmental conditions;
and resilience, the ability to sustain configurations of FEWS use and reuse in a watershed over time and in changing social and environmental conditions.
Using a systems approach, the research incorporates several key components that must be considered concurrently: a. Human behaviors for acquiring matter and energy; i.e., food, energy, and water resources; b. Infrastructure and systems that support those behaviors, including technological interventions; c. thermodynamic principles governing food, energy, and water use and waste (i.e., entropy); d. The flows of nutrients, energy, or water to minimize system entropy; e. The flow of nutrients and energy out of bounded systems in the form of waste streams and, f. The social controls to encourage or enforce behaviors that minimize system entropy. Research question 1 tests the hypothesis that waste and resource streams from food and agricultural production are greater than waste and resource streams for domestic household consumption, and changes to the agro-ecological sector can have the largest influence on the resilience of the overall FEW system. Research question 2 tests the hypothesis that no single technology is appropriate or sufficient for managing a given waste stream, and integrated recovery systems that account for secondary and tertiary waste products are the most useful for optimizing a FEWS. Research question 3 tests the hypothesis that constraints on minimizing system entropy and waste are not primarily at the technological interface (i.e., a lack of engineering solutions) but at the adoption/social interface.