The Center for a Sustainable Water Energy Food Nexus (SusWEF) will result in the formation of a strong, strategic and sustainable research and education partnership between the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM) and the University of South Carolina (USC) that will work together in forging a path to finding solutions that are crucial for a global transition to sustainable use of water, energy, and food. Specifically, we will use an integrated approach of synergistic research to study:

1) the use of agricultural waste biomass for the sustainable production of lignin and simple carbohydrates, 2) the use of an integrated set of advanced computational and experimental tools to discover improved catalytic and porous adsorbent materials, 3) the development of selective and efficient catalytic materials and processes for carbohydrates conversion to value added chemicals including biodegradable polymer building-blocks, 4) the development of advanced separation technologies for water treatment, and 5) the use of soil conditioners for improving crop production and water retention. Our team assembles a collection of talented interjurisdictional collaborators that were selected based on the unique assets that they contribute to the partnership. The combination of unique expertise and access to facilities and advanced research techniques not readily available at the partner institution will allow the achievement of our goals.

Intellectual Merit :

The assembled interdisciplinary research team comprises ample expertise in the design, synthesis, characterization, modeling and application of engineered nanostructured materials for catalysis and separations as well as soil science. Two multidisciplinary research thrusts comprised of faculty with shared interests and complementary skills from the partner institutions will address the nexus needs to improve food, water, and energy security. One thrust will perform bottom-up design of nanostructured catalysts for targeted transformation of biomass waste into value added chemicals as well as the study of soil amendment using lignin. A second thrust will focus on the development of advanced composites and membranes to remove contaminants of emerging concern from irrigation water. We propose to apply a novel research approach based on tight integration of experimental data and computational models through rigorous data science to elucidate and design novel functional materials at the nanoscale that has the potential to transform the field by fundamentally altering the way materials are discovered, developed, and optimized.

Broader Impacts :

SusWEF brings together a truly unique group of some of the finest, most passionate minds from the partner institutions in a coordinated effort to address problems with enormous potential benefit to society and the environment. We propose to advance the state of knowledge in catalysis, separations, soil science, engineered materials and sustainable processes for value added chemicals production from low carbon resources that should facilitate the development of technologies that will ensure a cleaner and safer environment. The outcomes of our research and educational goals will lay important groundwork for finding solutions to some of the nation’s most critical challenges such as climate change and energy security. This collaborative research and educational project emphasizes the concept of an active learning community where graduate and undergraduate students learn alongside researchers in the emerging areas of sustainability and renewable energy and chemicals, while participating in interdisciplinary projects that cover a wide range of areas involving the combination of modeling, experimentation and data science. We will foster the involvement of Hispanics and women in advanced degrees related to the areas of Chemical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Soil Science, Chemistry and Nanotechnology, and consequently build a diverse future workforce community of researchers. The proposed education and dissemination activities build upon infrastructure and platforms established through the participating partners and the acclaimed Science on Wheels Educational Center. The proposed strategic partnership will allow us to expand and strengthen such educational innovations to a much broader audience that will extend beyond the partner institutions.