Including nature in the food-energy-water nexus can improve sustainability across multiple ecosystem services

Activities in the food-energy-water nexus require ecosystem services to maintain productivity and prevent ecological degradation. This work applies techno-ecological synergy concepts in an optimization formulation to design a system for co-producing food and energy under constraints on ecological sustainability. The system includes land use activities and biomass conversion processes for the production of energy carriers, as well as supporting ecosystems that increase the supply of key ecosystem services. The co-production system was linearized and reduced to a mixed-integer linear program, which was optimized for single objectives under a variety of production and sustainability constraints. Results indicate that for the system considered to achieve high food and energy co-production, land use options should be balanced between food-producing crops and electricity-producing wind turbines and solar panels. Results also show that ecological sustainability can be achieved for this system with relatively small changes in land use patterns. The inclusion of nature in the design enables the system as a whole to achieve ecological sustainability for multiple ecosystem services with moderate sacrifices of food and energy productivity.