Nanotechnology for sustainable food production: promising opportunities and scientific challenges
The agro-ecosystem is under enormous pressure due to rapid population growth, increasing global food demand, increasing fresh water withdrawals and energy consumption, excessive food waste, inefficient use of agrochemicals, environmental degradation and climate change. Nanotechnology offers opportunities to make food production more sustainable by providing better sensors for monitoring physical, chemical, or biological properties and processes; technologies for controlling pathogens to increase food safety and minimize food waste; improved membranes and sorbents for distributed water treatment and resource recovery; novel materials for timed and targeted delivery of agrochemicals; and, new materials for monitoring and improving animal health. This tutorial review provides an overview of the nanotechnology opportunities of greatest potential determined through an NSF-funded interdisciplinary workshop of ∼50 experts from the U.S. and the EU in the areas of nanotechnology, energy, water, agriculture, systems engineering, data integration and analysis, and social science. This paper also presents examples of selected specific opportunities and the remaining scientific and engineering challenges that must be overcome to realize the benefits of nanotechnology across the farm to fork continuum.