College of Engineering faculty are co-leading a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop greenhouse and water purification systems throughout the western United States.
The NSF grant was officially awarded to The Transformation Network, an eight-university sustainability collaboration led by the University of New Mexico. The University of Arizona’s portion of the grant, $1.25 million, will fund the development of small-scale food-energy-water (FEW) systems in rural and Indigenous communities.
“The proposed project will provide water access, food sovereignty, and energy independence to our Native American community partners and will promote STEM research, education, and training to Indigenous students and communities,” Simmons-Potter said. “The UA research will provide a foundation for the advancement of FEW systems through training and development of economically sustainable plans to extend off-grid infrastructure throughout the Navajo Nation and beyond. Further, local production of food and water systems can support the Navajo economy through local business development. Finally, the UA project aims to center environmental justice by co-developing and co-designing solutions that will counter the environmental injustices that Indigenous communities have faced.”
Simmons-Potter says FEW systems provide three critical roles: potable water, food production, and sustainable energy for food and water systems. This sustainable energy can provide nighttime illumination, computer/cellphone operation and more for the rural communities.
According to the University of New Mexico, massive impacts of climate change have affected the western United States especially hard in recent years. This research grant also provides an opportunity to utilize knowledge systems from both Indigenous and rural communities and to work toward equitable research and management practices.
“The project is in its first year. As such, the planning stages are nearly complete and discussions with Indigenous partners have begun,” Simmons-Potter said. “Next steps will engage our partners in co-design and co-implementation/deployment/training of critical FEW systems that will support community sustainability and sovereignty.”