NSF-NSFC Jointly Funded Project on Urban Food-Energy-Water (FEW)

Originally published: 
August, 2017

Experts from the University of Michigan and Beijing Normal University gathered together on June 30, 2017 in Dana Building to discuss urban food-energy-water (FEW) nexus and find solutions for the sustainability of Detroit and Beijing. This is the annual workshop of an internationally collaborative project entitled “Integrated Systems Modeling of Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Nexus for Urban Sustainability” jointly funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas, the efficient provision of food, energy, and water has become a pressing challenge for urban sustainability. This challenge comes from not only the increasing demand for FEW resources due to increased urban population, but also the complex interdependence of the urban food, energy, and water systems. The U.S. and China, two of the largest economies in the world, now have 81% and 54% of their populations living in urban areas. Those numbers are expected to increase to 87% and 76%, respectively, by 2050. Given their different developmental stages, cities in the U.S. and China face common but not identical challenges in terms of food, energy, and water.

Recognizing the challenges and opportunities of the FEW nexus for urban sustainability, researchers from the University of Michigan and Beijing Normal University, China, joined forces to receive joint funding from NSF and NSFC in 2016. The team, co-led by Prof. Ming Xu and Prof. Zhifeng Yang at Beijing Normal University's School of Environment, were among the three selected by NSF and NSFC for funding from almost 200 proposals submitted to the program. Through case studies in Detroit and Beijing, the U-M project will develop and demonstrate an integrated systems modeling framework by (1) characterizing the urban FEW flow networks, (2) examining the structure of the integrated network of FEW flow networks, and (3) developing and evaluating policy and technology scenarios with stakeholder inputs to identify co-benefit opportunities without unintended consequences.

The project received approximately $1 million in funding, split between NSF and NSFC, for four years, which began on June 1, 2016. Annual workshops will be held, rotating between Ann Arbor and Beijing. The first workshop was held in Beijing in November 2016 followed by another in Ann Arbor on June 30, 2017. At the workshop, Professor Dan Brown discussed potential collaborations for SEAS and the School of Environment at Beijing Normal University.

Prof. Ming Xu, Associate Professor at SEAS as well as the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the Principle Investigator for this project. He is a core faculty member in the Center for Sustainable Systems, co-directs the Graduate Certificate Program in Industrial Ecology, and currently serves on the Advisory Committee of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the Executive Committee of the China Data Center. He is an elected Councilor of the Chinese Society for Industrial Ecology and has been Editor-in-Chief of the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling since 2015. In addition to Prof. Xu, the U-M team includes SEAS professors Shelie Miller, Josh Newell, and Jeremiah Johnson, and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Nancy Love.

Beijing Normal University is a public research university located in Beijing, China, with strong emphasis on basic disciplines of humanities and sciences. It is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in China. Its environmental science program ranks No. 1 in China.