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New National Science Foundation funded project explores intersection of waste life cycles

Christina Van Fossen
April 22, 2020

Organic Waste Life Cycles at the Interface of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (OWL-FEWS) is the new National Science Foundation funded project, led by Associate Professor Dr. Derek Kauneckis at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs in partnership with the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and Florida Institute of Technology. 

The four-year grant will enable various faculty and researchers across multiple disciplines to explore the interactions between food, water, energy and waste systems to reimagine their designs to be mutually beneficial and environmentally helpful through the lens of organic waste. 

“It looks at the intersection of new technologies, systems design and policy to better serve community’s economic needs while improving the environment,” Kauneckis said.

“The OWL-FEWS project is a terrific example of the interdisciplinary work that is the hallmark of the Voinovich School. Our project team is showcasing how research and innovation can be applied to this seemingly every day—but highly complex—issue of food waste,” Elissa Welch, Voinovich School project manager, said. 

One focus of the project will be utilizing biochar, the byproduct of burning organic material, for filtration and remediation of impacted soils and waterways, like those prevalent in Southeastern Ohio from historical mining practices. Through reconceptualizing waste as inputs for other processes, systems can be more sustainable. 

The OWL-FEWS project will also have a regional impact through their partnership with the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center. 

“The Athens-Hocking Recycling Center is working with the research team on data challenges for designing smart waste systems, lifecycle analysis of regional waste management (carbon and energy budget accounting) and providing expertise in the waste management field in terms of barriers and opportunities for innovation,” Kauneckis said. 

In addition to the social science expertise from Dr. Kauneckis, the OWL-FEWS team also includes Dr. Natalie Kruse, a water systems expert, associate professor and director of the Environmental Studies Program in the Voinovich School; Dr. Sarah Davis, associate professor in the Voinovich School will lead the efforts on anaerobic digestion and soil amendments research; Dr. Mohammad Reza, assistant professor in Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology who specializes in hydrothermal carbonization research; Dr. Jay Wilhelm, assistant professor at Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology will lead the efforts on RFID research; and, numerous staff and student researchers.

To learn more about the project, contact