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Advancing Food-Energy-Water System Resilience Through a Regional Resource Recovery Network

soybeans from conference poster


The food, energy, and water systems in agricultural regions are a complex and highly interconnected nexus with implications for industry, conservation, public health and more. Ensuring resilience of these systems through the variety of possible approaches to resolving conflicts among a region’s sectors and communities requires new understanding and new models. The primary objective of this symposium is to create the partnerships and roadmap needed to begin developing a scalable and transferable integrated technology-environment-economics model to quantify and develop best practice resilience strategies for this nexus.


Speaker Biographies

Jerald L. Schnoor (keynote speaker), University of Iowa

Dr. Schnoor is a registered professional engineer and a member of the National Academy of Engineering (elected in 1999) for his pioneering work using mathematical models in science policy decisions for environmental protection. He testified several times before Congress on the environmental effects of acid deposition and the importance of passing the 1990 Clean Air Act. Professor Schnoor was the Chair of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council (2007-2009), appointed by Governor Chester J. Culver. In addition, Schnoor serves as a Core Director of the Iowa Superfund Research Program and leads the W.M. Keck Phytotechnology Laboratory, which specializes in using plants to help clean and protect the environment, while reducing chemical exposures to humans.

Ximing Cai, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Professor Ximing Cai is Lovell Endowed Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a research leader in integrated hydrologic–economic system analysis and its application for reservoir operations, river basin management, food–energy–water system design and policy development, and drought management. He has authored or co-authored over 145 journal papers and 3 books. He used to serve as a Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. He holds a BS and MS from Tsinghua University, China, and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, all in Hydrology and Water Resources Engineering.

Gregory McIsaac, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Gregory McIsaac earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire, an MS in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Minnesota, and a PhD in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research and teaching activities at Illinois since 1985 have focused on soil erosion, sustainable agriculture, history of agriculture, ecosystem management, and the impacts of agricultural practices on water quality. He was a research specialist in the Illinois Department of Agricultural Engineering from 1985 to 1994, and a faculty member in UIUC Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from 1994 to 2009. Since retiring in 2009, he has continued to collaborate on research and educational projects at Illinois and with the Agricultural Watershed Institute in Decatur, IL

Andrew Sharpley, University of Arkansas

Dr. Sharpley is Distinguished Professor of Soils and Water Quality with the University of Arkansas. His research investigates nutrient cycling of soil-plant-water systems in relation to agricultural production, conservation, and water quality. He works closely with producers, farmers, and action agencies, stressing the dissemination and application of his research and is leading an on-farm program to show the benefits of conservation practices that protect water quality and promote sustainability of farming systems. He was 2017 President of the Soil Science Society of America; is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America Soil, and Soil Water Conservation Society. In 2008, was inducted into the USDA–ARS Hall of Fame and in 2012 received the Christopher Columbus Foundation Agriscience Award. He serves on National Academy of Science Panels and EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Indrajeet Chaubey, Purdue University

Lack of clean water to meet society’s needs is recognized as one of the major challenges of modern times by the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Chaubey’s research is focused on improving water quality and watershed management by integrating field data collection and mathematical modeling, and developing simulation models and tools that will guide policy decision makers, watershed managers, conservation specialists, and farmers. Dr. Chaubey is unique in his integration of simulation modeling and innovative field research to improve our understanding of various rainfall–runoff and pollutant transport processes at field, stream reach, and watershed scales. Dr. Chaubey is leading efforts nationally and internationally in quantifying how land use changes, agricultural intensification, and urbanization will impact water availability, water quality, and ecosystem services. His research improves watershed management decisions so that resource allocations and resulting water quality improvements can be optimized.

Dr. Chaubey has published more than 475 research articles, including 131 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 190 technical papers in various conferences, and he has given 55 invited presentations at various regional, national, and international conferences. He has won numerous honors and awards including New Holland Young Researcher Award, ADS/Hancor Soil and Water Conservation Award, Purdue Agricultural Research Award, Purdue University Faculty Scholar, Seed for Success Award, and Outstanding Research Award. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and a Fellow of Indian Society of Agricultural Engineers. He has served as the principal investigator or co-investigator on 50 research projects totaling more than $40 million. He has directed the MS/PhD work of 30 graduate students at the University of Arkansas and Purdue University.

As the Associate Dean and Director of the International Programs in Agriculture at Purdue University, Dr. Chaubey leads and coordinates international activities in the College of Agriculture to implement international programs that encompass activities throughout the entire food, agriculture, and natural resources systems. He works closely with faculty, national and international agencies, and private foundations to obtain funding and to facilitate international development projects.

Roland Cusick, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Roland Cusick earned his BS in Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Riverside (2005), and holds an MS (2010) and PhD (2013) in Environmental Engineering, both from the Pennsylvania State University. His honors include receiving the W. Wesley Eckenfelder Graduate Research Award from the American Association of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (2013), the Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award (2013), and the Paul V. Roberts Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (2014). Dr. Cusick has research interests in resource recovery from liquid and thermal waste streams and sustainable water and wastewater treatment. His primary research areas include desalination with energy storage materials as well as nutrient and energy recovery from wastewater.

Vijay Singh, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Vijay Singh is a Distinguished Professor of Bioprocessing in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Director of Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research is on the development of bioprocessing technologies for corn/biomass to ethanol, advanced biofuels, food, and industrial products. Dr. Singh has been a principal investigator or co-principal investigator for more than $116 million in supported research projects, has authored 165 peer-reviewed journal articles and 70 other publications, and holds ten patents related to corn processing and biofuels production. He has received numerous excellence in research awards from professional societies, academic institutions and trade organizations. Professor Singh has also received “Excellence in Teaching” and “Research Excellence” recognition several times. In 2015, Dr. Singh was selected as University Scholar, the highest honor given to a faculty member at the University of Illinois-system wide. He received his MS and PhD in Food and Bioprocess Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Andrew Margenot, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Margenot’s work addresses the literal foundation of all cropping systems: soils. He seeks to advance how we monitor and manage soils as natural capital. His research team evaluates how human activities can enhance or compromise soil services to human societies, with an emphasis on agroecosystems in the U.S. Midwest and the tropics. Current research by the Margenot team includes evaluating the potential of wastewater-recovered phosphorus to achieve the production and environmental quality goals of Illinois agriculture.

Molly Biedenfeld, Nutrients Market Development and Sales

Ms. Biedenfeld is a 17-year veteran of the agriculture industry, most of which has been spent in the fertilizer market. She joined Cargill Inc. in 2001 as commodity merchandiser and transitioned to The Mosaic Company in 2007 where she held various roles within the potash and phosphate divisions. In 2014 Ms. Biedenfeld joined Ostara to lead the development of their fertilizer business. She has a BS from Colorado State University and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.

Steve John, Agricultural Watershed Institute

Steve John is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Agricultural Watershed Institute (AWI), a nonprofit organization established in 2003. AWI’s mission is to conduct research and educational programs on practices and policies that improve water quality, maintain or restore ecosystem health, and conserve land and water resources in agricultural watersheds. A major focus of AWI’s recent work is on perennial biomass crops for co-production of agricultural goods and environmental services, including water quality, soil health, wildlife habitat, and climate mitigation/adaptation. Prior to AWI’s formation, Mr. John was an environmental consultant specializing in water quality planning. From 1987 to 1995, he served on the Decatur (Illinois) City Council. He has long been active in watershed management to protect Lake Decatur and has served on the Decatur City Plan Commission and the core group for the Decatur Sustainability Plan. He is currently on the board of the Macon County Community Environmental Council and the steering committees of the Green Land Blue Waters Consortium and the Midwest Conservation Biomass Alliance. He has a BA in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame.

David Watkins, Michigan Technological University

David Watkins is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Associate Director of the Sustainable Futures Institute at Michigan Technological University. His research interests include the development and application of integrated systems models for environmental and water resources sustainability in both the developing and industrialized world. He has been a collaborator on several large projects, including NSF Partnerships in International Research and Education and Research Coordination Network projects focusing on sustainability analysis of bioenergy systems. He currently directs a multi-university NSF Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems project that seeks to better understand consumption behavior and identify household-level actions that have the greatest potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions related to consumption of food, energy, and water. Since 2016, David has served as the Chief Editor of the ASCE Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, which examines social, economic, and environmental issues related to the use and conservation of water. He also serves as a faculty advisor for the Michigan Tech student chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA, and he directs an international senior capstone program through which students design water and transportation infrastructure for rural communities in Panama.

Gregory W. Characklis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dr. Characklis joined the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in March 2001 and currently serves as the Philip C. Singer Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering. His primary research interests involve developing solutions to water resource challenges through systems-based approaches that integrate consideration of both engineering and economic principles. Dr. Characklis is also Director of the Center on Financial Risk in Environmental Systems, an entity that bridges UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and Institute for the Environment. In addition, he serves as an editor for Hydrology and Earth System Sciences and is on the editorial board of Water Security. In 2012, he was elected to the Board of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) and was subsequently elected AEESP President for 2015-16. In 2014 he was selected as a Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences’ Kavli Frontiers of Science, and in 2010 he was named an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow by Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Prior to joining UNC, Dr. Characklis spent two years as Director of Resource Development and Management at Azurix Corp. (a division of Enron Corp.), where his responsibilities centered around assessing the technical and financial merits of water supply development projects. Before entering the private sector, he spent two years in Washington, D.C., as a fellow with the National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. Characklis holds a PhD and an MS in Environmental Science and Engineering from Rice University and a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

David LeBauer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. David LeBauer is a Research Scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Fellow at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. His research is focused on using science to engineer more sustainable and productive crops and agricultural systems. To support this work, he has developed open source software frameworks that integrate data and knowledge across disciplines including the Predictive Ecosystem Analyzer and the TERRA Reference Phenotyping Platform informatics and computing pipeline.

Ben Gramig, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ben Gramig is Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He teaches undergraduate agricultural policy and graduate students natural resource economics. His research program is motivated by public policy and human-environmental interactions. Gramig is currently researching adaptation to climate change in midwestern farming systems, agricultural conservation practice adoption, and environmental quality outcomes, and the spatial dynamics of feedbacks between behavioral choices and agro-ecosystem services.

Steve Frenkel, Current

Steve directs Current’s strategy, operations, and programs to advance innovative water research and technology. Prior to his appointment as Current’s Executive Director, Steve was a management consultant helping power-sector clients develop wind and solar energy projects. He previously led the Midwest office of the Union of Concerned Scientists and directed Midwest operations of Renew Financial, LLC, an innovative clean energy financing firm. Steve also served as Chief Policy Advisor at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and as Senior Advisor for Energy and Environment and Deputy Chief of Staff in the Illinois Governor’s office where he oversaw energy, environmental, and climate policy. Steve holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.


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Illinois 150: The 21st Century Research University and the Public Good by Kevin Hamilton, Paul Michael Leonardo Atienza, Jessica Harless, Kelsey Hassevoort, Robin Holland, Marcelo Boccato Kuyumjian, Allison LaHood, Beatriz Esmeralda Maldonado, Robert M Rouphail, Majid Shafiee-Jood, Lettycia Terrones, and Kevin Wallington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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