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The energy-water-food nexus: Strategic analysis of technologies for transforming the urban metabolism

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jim Hall, Professor Richard DawsonORCiD, Professor Oliver Heidrich


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Urban areas are considered net consumers of materials and energy, attracting these from the surrounding hinterland and other parts of the planet. The way these flows are transformed and returned to the environment by the city is important for addressing questions of sustainability and the effect of human behavior on the metabolism of the city. The present work explores these questions with the use of systems analysis, specifically in the form of a Multi-sectoral Systems Analysis (MSA), a tool for research and for supporting decision-making for policy and investment. The application of MSA is illustrated in the context of Greater London, with these three objectives: (a) estimating resource fluxes (nutrients, water and energy) entering, leaving and circulating within the city-watershed system; (b) revealing the synergies and antagonisms resulting from various combinations of water-sector innovations; and (c) estimating the economic benefits associated with implementing these technologies, from the point of view of production of fertilizer and energy, and the reduction of greenhouse gases. Results show that the selection of the best technological innovation depends on which resource is the focus for improvement. Urine separation can potentially recover 47% of the nitrogen in the food consumed in London, with revenue of $33 M per annum from fertilizer production. Collecting food waste in sewers together with growing algae in wastewater treatment plants could beneficially increase the amount of carbon release from renewable energy by 66%, with potential annual revenues of $58 M from fuel production. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Walker RV, Beck MB, Hall JW, Dawson RJ, Heidrich O

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Environmental Management

Year: 2014

Volume: 141

Pages: 104-115

Print publication date: 24/04/2014

ISSN (print): 0301-4797

ISSN (electronic): 1095-8630

Publisher: Academic Press


DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2014.01.054


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Funder referenceFunder name
Wheatley-Georgia Research Alliance Endowed Chair in Water Quality and Environmental Systems at the University of Georgia
EP/H003630/1UK's Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council