iSEE Congress Fall 2021:






Online October-November 2021


Hosted by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE)

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Stay tuned to register for each Zoom Webinar (links will be provided below) 



About the Congress

In the eighth iSEE Congress, we are readdressing the topic of feeding the world. A major challenge for agriculture in the coming decades: providing a secure and safe supply of food, feed, and fuel to an ever-increasing human population using agricultural practices that are ecologically sustainable and adaptable to climate change.

Over a group of one-hour sessions in October and November, “Circular Food Systems” brought together speakers and panelists from different disciplines to dive deeper into the topic. Our modified “teach-in” event will introduce the Illinois campus and community to cutting-edge thinking from highly influential scholars on advancing sustainability of our agriculture and food systems. Achieving this sustainability while continuing to increase agricultural productivity is a critical national priority. Through this conference, we aim to raise awareness of the national dialogue on sustainable agriculture and pathways for scientists, economists, and policymakers to collaborate in transitioning our agricultural system to one that reduces, reuses, and recycles waste.

In early September, with COVID-19 uncertainties still prevailing, iSEE chose to transform the Congress from in-person to online. Please click the links within each event’s toggle to register for each of the Zoom webinars!

The iSEE Congress is an assembly of leading national and international scientists, researchers, educators, journalists, and activists who will present the latest scientific research and community action on grand world challenges of sustainability, energy generation and conservation, and the environment.

The Fall 2021 Congress organizing committee included iSEE Associate Director for Education & Outreach Luis Rodríguez, former iSEE Associate Director for Education & Outreach Gillen D’Arcy Wood, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faculty members Carl Bernacchi, Adjunct Professor of Plant Biology and USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Physiologist; Emily Heaton, Professor of Regenerative Agriculture in the Department of Crop Sciences; Don Fullerton, Professor of Finance; Andrew Margenot, Assistant Professor of Crop Sciences; and Vijay Singh, Distinguished Professor of Bioprocessing in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory. The Oct. 27 “Transforming Food Systems for a Circular Economy” session is co-sponsored and co-hosted by the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE) and endorsed by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE).


To start the conversation …

iSEE held a creative writing contest in early 2021 for students to creatively describe food-life cycle sustainability. Read the winning entries below!

The Potato War Machine by Chaeyeon Park

The Potato War Machine

By Chaeyeon Park


            On September 1941, the United States and her allies cut off oil exports to Japan prompting the attack on Pearl Harbor. Oil was gold. Oil was money. Oil was king. Without oil the aircrafts would not run, the ships would not sail, and the Japanese war machine could not function. And so, scientists at the University of Tokyo discovered a way to harness the power of potatoes.


The Potato War Machine.

            Potatoes today, potatoes tomorrow—The manifesto of the Japanese empire on the eve of U.S. entrance into WWII. The farmer was now the aristocrat, the politician the slave. Potato day, potato festivals, potato propaganda films. Potato day every day.

            The age-old potato battery science project found its roots during the onslaught of World War II. With no oil from foreign exports, Japan had resorted to a short-lived period of potato powered ingenuity. Millions of potatoes would protrude off the sides of tanks and battleships, each hanging by 3cm wires which all interconnected. The phenomenon was called “Jagaimo-bukuro” or, “potato sack” by the Japanese people, to illustrate the monstrous form of the of light brown lumps protruding off of metal forms.

            Potatoes were banned from common consumption. Every family that produced potatoes on their plot of land and offered up their crops to the government would receive a daily stipend of food rations and money. Not a lot of money. Not a lot of food. But something to keep the Japanese war machine running. The war on the fronts, and the war at home.

            Sacrifice. The everyday people needed to sacrifice. Sacrifice for victory, for nationality, for—myths. Myths that were not a necessity for survival. Myths that did not sustain the body so much so as it did the mind—or perhaps not even the mind. Because when all is said and done, when money, government, country, nationality all fall apart… all that’s left is us, isn’t it? A body, a mind, a soul—that must be sustained to be preserved.

            All the potatoes given over to the government were to be stored in a military base—a crude cave with metal locks and gates where all the potatoes were stored. Those found eating a potato were heavily fined, so much so that it’s be cheaper to make burial preparations than to sink one’s teeth into a bland, seedy skin of a potato.

            A potato—a food that wasn’t even grown in Japan. A food that was not a dietary mainstay, or of cultural substance. A foreign, alien crop—almost an invasive crop—that transformed the landscape of Japan. All for—myths. All for the metallic hull of the war machine.


            During the latter half of the war, food was not produced in light of the potato. A potato that wasn’t meant to be eaten, to sustain the people, but was offered up like a sacrifice to metallic bodies and brainless, hollow hulls of the Japanese war machine. Sacrifice. All in the name of sacrifice. For victory… yet another myth. A myth that does not sustain the life but kills it. The myths of victory and camaraderie. A camaraderie that lives and dies together—.

            And then the soil died. Because overworking the soil does that—drains the nutrients, the phosphorous, the nitrogen.

Too much potatoes.

Too many potatoes.

            Too much that though the ships and air crafts hum along, the people begin to whither away. Too many potatoes such that even if all the world and all her creatures were to fade away, the Japanese war machine could function for the next 37 years or so.

            Empty stomachs. Stomachs that couldn’t even digest a potato if they wanted to, because the soil was too rotten and the government had ceased their food ration stipends for the last five months or so.





            That’s people.

            That’s food.

            With no food, people die. Funny, right? We treat food like a curse. Like calories to be counted. Like a guilty pleasure to indulge at night, under the fluorescent glare of the refrigerator light. But have you ever eaten a meal after starving for the past several days, weeks, months? How satisfactory, lovely, and transcendent that bite is. How your mouth will water for the blandest taste of rice or bread, or how a single scoop of green beans taste so sweet and filling to the last bite.

            Because food sustains you. And because we never truly know what we have until it is stripped away from us. Like when the crops fail, the soil dies, and the people go hungry. The people. Because we treat people like commodities. We package grains and sugar in a plastic bag and call then low-fat goodies, charge 5 bucks a pound and go on our way. The consumer war machine. The consumer war machine where we don’t think about food. We think about sugars, calories, diet pills, cheat days. But we don’t think about what happens without it—





            Just war machines in an eternal cog. An eternal cog where the irony never ceases to ring true—dying from starvation from producing too much food. Food that will never be eaten, or touched. Tasted. Will never sustain or nourish.

            By the time of the tragedy of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the potato campaign had already ceased from existence. The model had crashed and burned, like their three air carriers and five battleships.

            The only remnant of this ironic and painfully bizarre period of history was when a Swedish researcher stumbled upon an abandoned cave on the coast of Nagasaki. He had arrived to study the effects of radiation poisoning on the soil, only, his findings were much more bizarre.

            A single mound of a thousand or so pounds of potatoes, located just under the base of a cave, hallowed out beneath a mountain. The entrance had been obscured from the impact of the atomic bomb, but upon entering the researcher noted the singular smell of sulfur and roasted potatoes. He saw a monstrous mound of potatoes, all terribly spoiled and discolored… but some had begun to grow white sprouts from the spud.

            The War Machine lives on.

            Too much potatoes.

Cooking with Time by Andy Sima

Cooking with Time

By Andy Sima


Neolithic Unleavened Bread – Your First Meal 

Prep Time: Seven Million Years 

Cook Time: Ten Thousand Years 

Serves: Four to Ten Million People 

Chef’s Note: With this, you can create infinitely more complex dishes, at a certain cost of movement. It’s the cradle of any good urban chef’s repertoire! I hope it helps you out. With a little practice and some adjustments, you could feed millions more! 


  • Mastery of Fire 
  • Basic Flint Tools 
  • A Cereal Grain, 
  • Access to Water 

1. First, prepare a site for controlled growth of a cereal grain, such as barley or emmer wheat, or corn for the west. You may need to deforest or clear out an expansive area nearby your settlement. You can do this via sharpened stones or fire. 

2. Next, encourage the growth of a cereal grain through irrigation. You can dig trenches connected to existing waterways. Do not worry about how much land you are using or how many forests you are cutting down; there are not that many mouths to feed, and the world is wide. (Revise for second edition!) 

3. One the grain is planted, wait for it to grow. You might want to build a village, where you can try keeping cattle or chickens. These villages will be hard to live in, harder than hunting and gathering, but after several years, your fields can sustain huge populations. 

4. Finally, harvest the grain. Crush it between two stones into a fine powder. Mix this powder with water and cook in a thin sheet over a rock in a fire for ten minutes. Delicious! Goes great with meat and wild fruit. You reap what you sow! 


British Sweet Meat – A Summer Treat with History 

Prep Time: One Thousand Years 

Cook Time: Three Hundred Years 

Serves: Five Hundred Million to Two Billion (!!!) 

Chef’s Note: We’re skipping a couple steps here, but this should tide you over. You folks will need something better, though, and soon. Your population’s growing exponentially, and you aren’t going to be able feed everyone with what I’ve given you. I’ll get the next one down to a science. 


  • A Clover Crop Rotation Scheme 
  • Land Conversion 
  • Better Transportation 
  • Turkeys and Sugar (Where did they get those?) 

1. Building off the lessons learned in Fifty Different Arabic Salads, turn your crop rotation into a mechanized system. This will allow you to deplete the soil and largely replenish its nutrients, especially if you cover it with clovers. They look pretty, too! 

2. Borrowing designs from Chinese Ploughs and You, there are a couple different ways to use all that coal laying around to make unique metal tools, like better ploughs. You can even turn more land into farms to feed more people, and transport it better, via train or boat. 

3. Once you have contacted the western continents, sharing is caring; they should benefit from you as much as you benefit from them. Be sure to grow your crops equitably and evenly, and you can both increase your work forces with larger population pools as needed. (No no no this one went HORRIBLY wrong, must revise) 

4. Finally, harvest the turkeys and sugar and ship them a few thousand miles to make sure that they age properly. Then, grind them both together in a nearby millstone and bake the remnants into a loaf for a truly British flavor! 


American Corn Syrup – Tons of Uses! 

Prep Time: Fifty Years 

Cook Time: One Hundred Years (?) 

Serves: Three to Seven (?) Billion 

Chef’s note: Ok, this one should be it. You’ll all be careful with this, right? Don’t just sell it all to make a quick buck. You’re going to have plenty of food, you just need to distribute it evenly and equitably. I never thought there would be so many of you. 


  • Nitrate/Phosphate Fertilizer 
  • High-Yield Plants 
  • Insecticides, Pesticides, Fungicides 
  • Corn 

1. Generate an industrial process to produce incredible quantities of chemically synthesized fertilizers, because crop rotation is no longer enough. Apply a generous base of fertilizer to as much land as you can. 

2. Artificially select, or genetically enhance, crops to produce as much as possible, especially wheat, rice, and corn. Corn can be processed into almost any form. Seed these 

plants across millions of acres of what used to be prairies. 

3. Throughout the entire process, make sure to keep an eye on the temperature of the atmosphere. Too hot, too fast, and things will fall apart quickly. You can avoid this by keeping a finger on your extraction of resources. 

4. Address rapid ecosystem deterioration with a liberal spread of chemical cocktails, detailed in the appendix. These should keep out general pests, invasive species, and super bugs for the time being. 

5. Finally, once the corn is harvested, crush it between the spinning, bloodied wheels of progress to form a thick, viscous gloop for sweetening luxury goods, or feed it to cattle and chickens stuffed into mechanical factories of meat for cheap, easy protein. 


African Chinese Latin ???? Lab-Grown Anti-Starvation Foodstuff? – Staving off the End 

Prep Time: Today 

Cook Time: Tomorrow 

Serves: More than Ten Billion? Is that enough? 

Chef’s Note: I’m so sorry. I’m scrambling to keep up here. I’ve made so many mistakes. There’s more than enough to go around, I think, but it isn’t “profitable.” Maybe you can still feed everyone, but things are changing so fast now, the last recipe might not work soon. You might be on your own soon. There must be a way. I just haven’t found it yet. 


  • Bigger fields (too much ecosystem destruction?) 
  • More water (there is no more water!!!) 
  • More fertilizers (too much fossil fuel use?) 
  • More meat (definitely NOT this one) 
  • More coal (already made that mistake once) 
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (too controversial?) 
  • Polyculture and Regional Variability (ok maybe this one, but not “profitable”) 
  • Low-tech Solutions (what if they went back?) 
  • Climate-Change Resiliency Measures (A last resort?) 

1. To begin, start by clearing out the rest of the world’s arable land and- 

1. Consider expanding the production of corn into third-world countries via the use of economic force and… 

1. Grow more cows? 

1. Follow a multi-tiered approach that does not encroach upon existing green spaces while simultaneously minimizing the production of fossil fuels. Lower the level of pesticides being released into the environment and catch all those fertilizers before they reach the 

ocean and bloom. 

2. Stop trying to grow corn everywhere! Begin a decolonial approach to agriculture that allows local farmers to utilize the newest tech advances while respecting their cultural ability to subsist on the land. Where possible, produce large, polycultural fields of a wide variety of crops for local and global consumption, distributed equitably. 

3. Do this all before the sea levels get too high. There will be a solution. (How are they going to agree on this? Who will fund it? Where will the corn go? There must be something!) 


5. Finally, harvest the fruits of your labor and grind it into dust, as all things began, so they shall end, you screwed it all up in such a beautiful way. 

6. You reap what you sow. 

The Congress Sessions


Noon-1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19 — "21st Century Technologies for Sustainable Agriculture"

A discussion about about cutting-edge techniques that can help make agriculture more productive, more effective, and less taxing on our environment.

Moderator: Luis Rodríguez, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering and iSEE Associate Director for Education & Outreach

The video:


Ken Cassman

Robert B. Daugherty Emeritus Professor of Agronomy, University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Presentation title: “Public Goods — Big Data and Metrics to Establish Circular Food Systems”

Abstract: Ensuring global food security for nearly 10 billion people by midcentury will require higher yields on existing farmland to avoid massive expansion of crop production at the expense of rain forests, grasslands, and wetlands. Substantial reductions in negative environmental impacts and natural resource degradation from intensive production practices are also required. Achieving substantially higher yields and large reductions in negative environmental impact, a process called ecological intensification, depends on precise management of all inputs to give high efficiencies for water, energy, and nutrients, as well as crop rotations and residue management to minimize soil erosion, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Robust, low-cost metrics are needed to monitor progress toward these environmental performance goals. Good quality, publicly accessible data on weather and soil properties with greatest influence on yields and input requirements are essential to help identify and implement crop and soil management practices that optimize both yield and environmental performance. Currently available climate and soil data are not up to the task. Modest public-sector investment is needed to establish the required public goods big data at fine spatial scale to support precision agriculture in time and space, and to accelerate innovation and technology transfer towards sustainable intensification of our major food production systems.

Bio: Cassman currently serves as an Emeritus Professor of Agronomy and agricultural consultant. Over a 40-year career, his research has focused on ensuring local and global food security while conserving natural resources and protecting the environment. He has worked on many of the world’s major cropping systems — from rice-based systems in the tropics of Asia and South America, to maize-soybean systems in the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina, and high-value irrigated crops in California, Peru, and Egypt. He currently works at the intersection of agriculture and environmental advocacy to improve yields, profit, and environmental performance. Cassman led development of the Global Yield Gap Atlas, an interactive map-based web platform developed to estimate exploitable gaps in yield and water productivity for major food crops worldwide. He is co-author of Crop Ecology, a seminal upper-division/graduate school textbook. In 2017, he received the Bertebos Prize from the Swedish Royal Academy of Agriculture and Forestry in recognition of his contributions to agricultural science.

Read more >>>


Girish Chowdhary

Associate Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering and Computer Science, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Presentation title: “Under-Canopy Cover Crop Planting with Robots”

Abstract: Over 400 million acres of soil lays bare for two-thirds of the year in the American Midwest! This causes soil erosion, fertilizer runoff, and biodiversity reduction — and it is a lost opportunity in carbon sequestration. Cover crops could change all that, but late planting dates currently achievable through post-harvest seed drilling, and high costs of aerial seeding are major barriers. We are developing low-cost under-canopy robotic planters for cover crops that can significantly lower cost ($3 per acre versus $20 with current methods) and advance planting dates (August instead of late September). In 2020, we showed the feasibility of this technology by planting 5 acres of cover crop in standing maize, and we are on our way to planting 1,000 acres in 2021.

Bio: Chowdhary is a Donald Biggar Willet Faculty Fellow at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Director of the Field Robotics Engineering and Science Hub (FRESH), and Chief Scientist on the Illinois Autonomous Farm. He holds a joint appointment with Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Computer Science, is a member of the UIUC Coordinated Science Lab, and holds affiliate appointments in Aerospace Engineering and Electrical Engineering. Chowdhary holds a Ph.D. (2010) from Georgia Institute of Technology in Aerospace Engineering. He was a postdoc at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2011-13), and an Assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University (2013-16). He also worked with the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR’s) Institute of Flight Systems for about three years (2003-06). Chowdhary is the author of more than 90 publications in autonomy and robotics, and PI on NSF, AFOSR, NASA, ARPA-E, and DOE grants, and an ONR MURI. He is the winner of the Air Force Young Investigator Award and several best paper awards. He is the co-founder of EarthSense Inc., working toward making sustainable farming profitable with ultralight field robots.

Read more >>>

1-2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27 — "Transforming Food Systems for a Circular Economy"

Co-sponsored and co-hosted by the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE), this event is also endorsed by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE).

Advancing environmental sustainability of our agriculture and food systems while continuing to increase agricultural productivity is a critical national priority. Improvements in technology, incentives from markets and appropriate policies combined with systems-oriented thinking are crucial to achieving this transformation. The session is intended to highlight this pressing challenge and discuss strategies for addressing it from different disciplinary perspectives.

Moderator: Madhu Khanna, ACES Distinguished Professor of Environmental Economics and iSEE Interim Director; and AAEA President

The video:


James Jones

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Systems Modeling, University of Florida

Presentation title: “Transforming Food and Agricultural Systems Guided by Circular Economy Concepts”

Abstract: Science, technological innovations, and available natural resources have enabled the U.S. to produce abundant, safe, and affordable food and other agricultural products to meet increasing demands in the past. Although this is a remarkable achievement, traditional approaches to increasing supplies of food and agricultural products for projected population increases are inadequate. Losses and wastes occur across food and agricultural production-supply chains that reduce economic benefits, decrease environmental quality, and wastes water, land, and other limited natural resources. New strategies are essential for transforming food and agricultural systems, considering multiple goals that go beyond only increasing the supply of food. Transformations must lead to systems that contribute to climate change solutions, greatly reduce contamination of water, and increase biodiversity in addition to providing livelihoods in rural and urban settings. An achievable aspiration is that food and agricultural systems can be transformed to meet higher future demands for products while providing positive economic, climate, biodiversity, and environmental benefits. Circular economy principles can guide the development of approaches for transforming or designing systems. Principles of circular economies are (1) design out waste and pollution, (2) keep products and materials in use, and (3) regenerate natural systems. Use of these principles, plus providing economic benefits, helps interdisciplinary teams envision transformations that design out negative impacts of activities that cause damage to human health and natural systems, including release of greenhouse gases and chemicals and pollution of air, land, and water. Circular systems make effective use of food and agricultural products by encouraging different economic uses before returning nutrients to natural systems. Professional societies, industries, policy makers, foundations, and others are seeking research and development pathways that address multiple productivity, economic, and environmental goals. In this talk, I will summarize why circularity is a useful concept to address these goals, point out example studies that use these concepts, and discuss initiatives of the national academies and collaborating professional societies. 

Bio: Jones retired from the University of Florida in 2010 and continued to work on research projects until 2016, when he accepted an invitation to serve as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and co-lead the major funding multidisciplinary and multi-agency opportunity (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems, jointly funded by NSF and USDA-NIFA). While at NSF, he led the development of a new multidisciplinary research initiative called Signals in the Soil (SitS). He completed his responsibilities at NSF late in 2019, and he now works part time at the University of Florida on various initiatives locally, nationally, and internationally. Jones created a process that integrated models for several crops that he and his colleagues developed and models developed elsewhere that used different structures and data and reworked them so that they could all fit into a unified modeling scheme, effectively creating a standard framework for additional crops. He also added more components to the models, including soil fertility and pest management. This modular approach made it was relatively simple to extend the model framework to include more crops and to address more complex scenarios. Jones currently serves on the National Academy Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, with leaders of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and other professional societies and organizations involved food and agricultural systems issues. His work emphasizes use of convergent systems approaches to develop food and agricultural systems that are more productive, sustainable, and resilient.

Read more >>>


Bruno Basso

MSU Foundation Professor of Crop Modeling and Land Use Sustainability, Michigan State University

Presentation title: “Novel Technologies for Enhancing Circularity in Grain Production Systems”

Abstract: In this brief talk, Baso will discuss how the how digital, mechanical, and genetic technologies can transform U.S. grain production systems into circular systems to close loops of nutrient and energy flows within the farm. The adoption of these novel technologies will depend on their profitability relative to the current linear systems, and profitability will in turn depend on public policies needed to encourage farmers to reduce the soil, air, and water pollution caused by current linear systems.

Bio: Basso’s research expertise is in crop modeling and land use sustainability. His research deals mainly with water, carbon, nitrogen cycling and modeling in agro-ecosystems, and spatial analysis of crop yield. Basso’s modeling research has focused on extending soil-crop-atmosphere models to spatial domains at the field scale, and in particular on developing, testing, and deploying SALUS, a next-generation process-based model that integrates crop productivity with water, carbon, and nutrient fluxes in a spatially explicit manner. Basso has participated as PI and Co-PI in several international projects. He is the author of more than 150 technical publications.

Read more >>> 


Charles Rice

Distinguished Professor of Soil Microbiology, Kansas State University

Presentation title: “Transforming the Linear Agricultural and Food System to a Circular Bioeconomy”

Abstract: Future stresses on U.S. food and agricultural enterprises are unlikely to be resolved if business as usual prevails, implying that transformations are needed. Solutions to complex, interconnected food systems will be built on holistic approaches, taking into account their feedback mechanisms and incorporating systems thinking and sustainability. Our current food and agricultural systems are mostly linear emphasizing production, distribution, and use of food and agricultural products, but not losses of natural resources or their impacts. Such systems rely on continued inputs. Continued reliance on these unsustainable linear systems places future U.S. economic competitiveness in agricultural sectors at risk. An alternative to current systems is a transition into a resilient circular bioeconomy. Circular economies focus on four principles: 1) eliminate waste and pollution; 2) preserve products and materials in use; 3) regenerate natural systems; and 4) provide economic benefits. Transforming the existing system into a circular bioeconomy will require interdisciplinary systems thinking and transition management to simultaneously address multiple challenges. This effort requires multiple sectors, including the physical and social sciences and the technical, business, legal, and policy domains. Expertise is needed in food, agriculture, natural resources, energy, water, and urban and rural planning and requires holistic thinking for identifying convergent system-level solutions.

Bio: Rice is a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The overall goal of his research program is to improve and protect the environment. More specifically, it focuses on soil quality/microbiology, carbon cycling, and climate change. His research has been supported by more than $15 million in grants from the USDA, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and others. He has advised more than 30 graduate students and has authored more than 100 publications. In addition to research and teaching in soil microbiology at K-State, he has been active with the Soil Science Society of America, where he served as president in 2011. Rice now serves on the National Academies Board on Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force. He chairs the Commission on Soils, Food Security and Public Health of the International Union of Soil Sciences, and is a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Read more >>>


David Zilberman

Robinson Chair and Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California at Berkeley

Presentation title: “Sustainable Development and the Circular Food System” (Technical issues prevented his slides from being shown. View them here >>>)

Abstract: Climate change, food security, and safety challenge the human food system, technology, and institutions. New management principles are introduced to address these challenges — including circularity, the bioeconomy, agroecology, and precision farming. In this talk, I aim to address the linkage between these approaches and argue that they are part of the sustainable development of agriculture. Sustainable development means the pursuit of improved welfare at the present without harming future generation, and thus implies conservation and features of circularity — including improved input use efficiency and recycling, among others. These approaches are complementary, and their introduction, implementation, and growth require continuing investment in education, research, extension, technology transfer institutions from the public and private sector, and enabling incentives and policies. These policies include pricing various externalities, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, science-based regulations allowing use of new biological tools, and investment in digital infrastructure.

Bio: Zilberman’s research is on the economics of agriculture, the environment, innovation, and supply chains. He is the recipient of the 2019 Wolf Prize in Agriculture and was elected a member of U.S. National Academy of Science 2019. He served as the 2018-19 President of Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA). He’s a Fellow of the AAEA, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, and Honorary Life Member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. Among his awards are the 2005 and 2010 AAEA Publication of Enduring Quality Award and the UNESCO International Cannes Prize for Water and the Economy (2000). He has published more than 350 refereed articles in journals ranging from Science to ARE-Update and has edited 20 books. He has served as a Consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the World Bank, and FAO.

Read more >>>

Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3 — "How Can We Reduce Waste from Agricultural and Food Systems?"

A discussion about true food circularity — and how it must include waste reduction on the agricultural and consumer sides.

Moderator: Carl Bernacchi, Research Plant Physiologist, USDA Agricultural Research Service, and Adjunct Professor of Plant Biology

The video:

Brian Roe

Van Buren Professor of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, Ohio State University

Presentation title: “How Can We Reduce Waste from Agricultural and Food Systems? The Pivotal Role of Consumers”

Abstract: Consumers are the final and arguably most critical link in the food supply chain, as food consumption is the raison d’etre for the entire food system. With about 37% of the wasted food in the United States directly attributable to decisions made by consumers in their homes and another 29% occurring in retail and food-service settings, the systems that shape consumer waste are ripe for transformation. In this presentation, Roe will review the recommendations for reducing consumer waste of food offered by a recent National Academies study — which specifically considers a systems perspective — and consider the system-wide challenges involved in implementing several of the recommendations, including date-label harmonization and increased fees for landfill disposal of organics.

Bio: Roe, the Van Buren Professor of in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at Ohio State, has worked broadly in the areas of agricultural and environmental economics focusing on issues including food waste, agricultural marketing, information policy, farm nutrient management, behavioral economics and product quality. He also helped form and currently leads the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative, a collection of researchers, practitioners, and students working together to promote the reduction and redirection of food waste as an integral part of a healthy and sustainable food system.

Read more >>>


Tom Theis

Professor of Civil, Materials, and Environmental Engineering and Director of The Institute for Environmental Science and Policy, University of Illinois Chicago

Presentation title: “Food Systems and Circularity”

Abstract: Food systems are among the most complex devised by humankind, involving the integration of many stages that include production, marketing and distribution, acquisition, preparation and consumption, and downstream impacts of wastes and their management. Interactions among these stages convey materials (raw materials, calories and nutrients, waste, energy, water), and information (capital and regulatory influences). Agricultural systems are in effect a “system of systems.” Thermodynamically, agricultural systems are open, i.e., they exchange matter, energy, and information with their surroundings: importing artificial fertilizers, biocides, and fuel; exporting food and wastes. In contrast, circularity focuses on loop-closing technologies and policies in which wastes are minimized, treated, and reused. In general, the means of production of the food system are located in rural regions, while most consumption takes place in urban areas. This urban-rural connection accentuates how the demand for food affects embedded water and energy on a continental and global scale. Much research has focused on the production and consumption stages of the food system, but policies that focus on integration of these stages have lagged in spite of findings making clear that there are significant opportunities to redefine resource requirements and food cycle interactions. Such an integrated approach has the added value of directly linking the food nexus with human and ecosystem health. For example, were consumers to acquire, prepare, and eat foods closer to recommended dietary guidelines, water requirements related to food consumption would decline by as much as 30%, and agriculturally-related release of nutrients by up to 40%. Findings also suggest that reducing food spending and consumption of environmentally intense proteins and grains could result in the highest conservation of cradle-to-farm-gate land and water resources. Reducing protein and dairy food spending and consumption could mitigate the most GHG emissions. Furthermore, different messaging relevant to particular demographic groups may be necessary to encourage healthier and lower-impact dietary choices. This presentation will explore these findings and opportunities within the context of the “circular” economy, drawing upon recent experience in the NSF-sponsored workshop “World Without Waste.”

Bio: Theis’s areas of expertise include life cycle impact assessment, industrial ecology, the mathematical modeling and systems analysis of environmental processes, environmental policy, pollution prevention, and hazardous waste management. He has published in excess of 150 peer-reviewed articles and is the co-author (with Jonathan Tomkin) of the text Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation. Theis is a past member of the U.S. EPA Congressionally Chartered Science Advisory Board. Among his assignments while on the SAB were chair of the Multimedia, Multi-pathway, Multi-receptor Exposure and Risk Assessment Model (3MRA) review committee, chair of the Scientific and Technological Achievement Award Committee, and co-chair (with James Galloway and Otto Doering) of the Integrated Nitrogen Committee — which released its report “Reactive Nitrogen in the United States: An Analysis of Inputs, Flows, Consequences, and Management Options” in 2011.

Read more >>>

Noon-1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9 — "Turning Agricultural Waste into Usable Products"

A discussion of how the negative economic and environmental effects of agricultural waste can be mitigated through some cutting-edge processes and technologies.

Moderator: Ximing Cai, Lovell Endowed Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and iSEE Associate Director for Campus Sustainability

The video:

Thomas Trabold

Research Professor, Golisano Institute for Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology

Presentation title: “Innovative Products Using Biochar Derived from Agricultural Waste Resources

Abstract: It is well known that the global agricultural system generates large volumes of organic wastes, many of which are treated by incineration or landfilling. There is growing interest in using these materials in value-added products to improve the overall environmental performance of the agricultural operation, and to generate secondary revenue streams for the farmer. We have applied pyrolysis processes, i.e. high-temperature thermochemical conversion in the absence of oxygen, to produce biochar from common agricultural wastes including animal manure, woody biomass, crop residues, pallet wood, and boxboard. Biochar is a highly stable form of carbon with favorable physical and chemical properties that make it suitable for application in a wide variety of industrial applications, and as a potential replacement for fossil fuel-based carbon components such as granular activated carbon (GAC) and carbon black. This presentation shows how biochar can be effectively applied as an enriched soil amendment, adsorbent for important nutrients such as phosphorous, and as a filler in biopolymer composite products. It is further demonstrated that pyrolysis and biochar can be combined with other technologies such as composting and anaerobic digestion to help move the global food system toward the goal of circular economy.

Bio: Trabold is a former Department Head in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS), with primary research focus in development of alternative energy technologies, including fuel cells, biofuels, and processes for valorizing organic waste materials. He has more than 20 years of experience in industrial R&D, ranging from nuclear thermal-hydraulic systems for submarines and aircraft carriers at General Electric, to coating processes for photoreceptor manufacturing at Xerox, to proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell systems for zero-emissions vehicles at General Motors. In the latter position, he was a Professional Technical Fellow and Laboratory Group Manager, with responsibility for engineering research activities in the U.S. and Germany. At RIT, his current research efforts are in thermochemical conversion of organic waste to produce carbonaceous biochar, and in using biomass derived hydrogen in high-temperature PEM fuel cell systems. Trabold has a strong record of accomplishment in sustainable energy and materials research, with more than 130 technical publications and over 55 U.S. and international patents.

Read more >>>


Yuanhui Zhang

Founder Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Presentation title: “From Biowaste to Transportation Fuel — and Environment-Enhancing Paradigm”

Abstract: Single-cycle nature fertilizer use would not meet the increasing food and bioenergy demand; thus agricultural and biofuel production addictively rely on fossil fuel-derived fertilizer, which is the largest single source of reactive nitrogen in biosphere contributing to climate change. Renewable energy can be obtained via various viable sources such as solar, wind, and even geothermal. However, there is no clear sustainable pathway for renewable liquid fuels yet. A new paradigm, dubbed as “Environment-Enhancing Energy (E2-Energy)”, has been investigated in Zhang’s lab. In this paradigm, biowaste (food, manure, algal bloom, and sludge) are first converted into biocrude oil via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). The HTL biocrude is then upgraded into transportation fuels via catalytic hydrotreating and distillation. The post-HTL wastewater (PHW) is treated to recover remaining carbon, energy, and nutrients for biomass production including growing algae. This presentation gives an update of the E2-Energy research in the lab, including the biocrude oil conversion and PHW valorization.

Bio: Zhang is a Founder Professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering and an Affiliated Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering as well as Bioengineering. He is a registered professional engineer; a Fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). His research includes hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of biowaste and algae into biocrude oil, upgrading HTL biocrude into transportation fuels, and valorising post-HTL wastewater (PHW) by recovery of nutrients and energy. He has published 238 peer-reviewed journal papers and is the author of a textbook Indoor Air Quality Engineering. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses on built environment, HVAC systems, indoor air quality engineering, and research methodologies.

Read more >>>