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Special Collection

Forum: Food-energy-water systems: Opportunities at the nexus

Collection launched: 20 Jan 2016
Guest Editors:

Anne R. Kapuscinski, Sustainability Transitions Editor-in-Chief, Dartmouth
Michael E. Chang , Sustainable Engineering Editor-in-Chief, Georgia Institute of Technology
Kim Locke, Sustainability Transitions Associate Editor, Dartmouth

Food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) are interconnected, interdependent, and complex.

They relate in important ways at decision scales that range from individual households and single parcels of land up through international trade agreements and the global climate. They respond and adapt – sometimes unpredictably – to varied forces that include shifting environmental conditions, consumer preferences, governmental regulations, and technological advances. They also prompt reactions from other environmental, socioeconomic, and engineered systems causing new properties – sometimes undesirable – to emerge that were not evident at lower levels of organization.

sustainability cycleThis Elementa Forum welcomes Research Articles, Reviews, Policy Bridges, Practice Bridges (including education), and Commentaries that explore the nexus between two or more food, energy, and water systems. At what temporal and spatial scales do these systems relate? How do materials, energy, nutrients, and economic and human capital flow among these systems? Who or what manages or regulates their exchange? How and to what extent will changes in climate, hydrology, urbanization, or agribusiness affect these relationships? What are the life cycle impacts and costs of traditional and alternative systems? How might these systems be physically developed, linked to natural environments, and organizationally managed to increase system sustainability and resilience? Are education and workforce training practices providing students and workers with sufficient understanding of these complex systems? Which of these (and thousands of other) questions are most important for scientists to study? How can we accelerate the interdisciplinary collaborations needed to inform sustainable solutions at the food-energy-water nexus?

Papers are invited from researchers, educators, practitioners, and policy makers that examine FEWS systems from biological, chemical, physical, social, economic, environmental, technological, and pedagogical perspectives. We welcome manuscripts addressing any FEWS related topic. The Editors-in-Chief of Elementa’s Sustainability Transitions and Sustainable Engineering domains are also particularly interested in submissions addressing Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) and Integrated Civil Infrastructure (or “Infrastructure Ecology”), respectively.

  • Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) range from growing side-by-side food and energy crops, as in agroforestry, to siting of solar and other common renewable energy technologies, to more complex systems where waste products from one part of the farm system or off-farm becomes the energy feedstock for energy generation. They offer exciting environmental, economic and social benefits, including offsetting fossil fuel use, product diversification and increased efficiencies and reducing costs via closing resource and energy loops. But there also are challenges/obstacles to their more rapid and widespread adoption. Under what conditions (social, economic, technological, etc.) are IFES likely to thrive? Under what conditions are they severely hindered or unlikely to emerge at all? What key levers exist for creating favorable conditions and scaling up their adoption?

  • Large scale infrastructure systems (transportation networks; energy grids; water, sewer, and storm water systems; and commercial food production and distribution systems) function at the interface between human society and the environment by processing resources and information, providing goods and services, and managing wastes. Though they are often designed, built, and operated independent from each other, they function like ecosystems, in which components exchange energy, materials, and information. Understanding the mechanisms through which these systems are interconnected is still a young science, however, and learning how to control and leverage these interconnections is a desirable engineering goal. Contributions are invited that bring insight into the emerging discipline of infrastructure ecology that links together food, energy, and water systems.

If interested in submitting a paper, please contact us at

Currently accepting submissions

Cover image: The Lashto Fish Farm, Toucan Carré, Haiti (courtesy NRG Energy, Inc.)