Nexus Thinking: A New Concept for Me to Grasp


This may have been the first time I have heard of Nexus thinking. However, holistic thinking and systematic thinking processes are not new to me, so hopefully I can pick this concept up without too much trouble. From what I’ve gathered so far, nexus thinking is taking three components: Food, Energy and Water (FEW) (which are also the three things we are vulnerable without), and connects them to one another. Through this connection, link, or loop, each of the three individual resources affects the other. Using this type of thinking, every idea one might initially have about sustainability of our earth could change, because there’s a bigger picture now. From the words of Tim Smedley, a correspondent for The Guardian, “Nexus is a recognition that any solution for one problem, for example water, must equally consider the other two in the nexus.”


The reason each resource is connected begins with the source of each resource: Food and energy cannot be created without a great deal of water. This can be seen in all living beings on Earth. Also, energy is necessary to create food, by photosynthetic processes amongst others. Also energy is solely responsible for changing the states of H2O to a solid liquid or gas. Energy also moves, heats and treats liquid water. Food crops are also a source of energy and water for living beings on Earth, including us humans (GRACE Communications Foundation, 2017).


Many researchers are making the switch to Nexus thinking, as we’ve seen how the conventional two-dimensional way of thinking about our precious resources has caused waste, shortage, and is taking its toll on our Earth. One researcher, Dr. James Stone, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, says regarding the importance of nexus thinking:


“It becomes apparent when conducting Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) that agricultural production, energy, water, and the economics of these resources are inherently connected. The FEW nexus is the foundation of sustainability.  These are the critical resources that we, our children, and their children’s children need to survive. Start with one simple product or process, something that matters to you and is of personal interest.  Then begin to detangle how it is influenced by or influences the other nexus components, the environment, and cost.  Once you have a handle on the basic relationships, find ways to improve it.”


Nexus thinking is so important for us because, as a species, we are beginning to have to face some of the most threatening conditions to our existence. These threats include, but are not subject to, global climate change and its impacts, over population, deforestation, and species extinction. According to Tim Smedley, “with the world population growing at a rate of around 80 million people a year, it is estimated that by 2030 the world will need 30% more water, 40% more energy and 50% more food.” Given this, we need to start recognizing trade-offs within the FEW nexus components and implement ways to reuse our resources and create less waste.





Anaerobic digestion, or “Biodigestion,” is a biowaste solution, that hopes to create significant less waste, and ultimately zero waste, and is another brand-new concept to me. However, the traditional waste management processes, including sewage treatment plants, aerobic lagoons, compost yards, and landfills are all familiar; and quite frankly, they stink. These “solutions,” more often, consume energy to “remove” waste; which may make for even more waste, including in the pollution of water and agriculture. Just as importantly, if not more importantly in this day and age, the traditional waste methods I’m familiar with create more greenhouse gasses, including the especially concerning methane, in our atmosphere. “Biodigestion” however, can be a good solution to renewable energy and has additional benefits including improving air and water quality, reducing green house gasses, and provide new employment and job opportunity (WSU CAHNRS 2013).


Biodigesters convert the organic carbon in waste, such as manure and other animal agriculture waste into biogas, which can then be used as fuel or to generate energy in the form of electricity. The biodigestion process mimics the biological process of microorganisms breaking down organic matter in environments with little or no oxygen. Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources (WSU CAHNRS) posted a Youtube video titled “Anaerobic Digestion: Beyond Waste Management,” describing the process of anaerobic digestion. The “digester” is an underground sealed tank that organic waste matter is pumped into. Once the waste is in the digester, it is heated and agitated, creating perfect conditions for the microorganisms to break down the carbon in the waste and create “biogas”- composed of methane and carbon dioxide. The biogas is collected and cooled and used to power a generator that can produce electricity. The energy produced from the digester keeps the system running, as excess biogas is used to produce heat and energy to continue powering the digester.

After the biogas is captured from the organic waste, the remaining waste is pumped into a separate tank that then captures the water from the waste and treats the water to be separated into a lagoon. This treated water, which has been treated to reduce harmful pathogens and remove odors may be used to water crops. While the solid waste can also be treated and used for other purposes including as animal bedding or can be sold as a soil amendment or peat moss replacement (WSU CAHNRS 2013).




Reflection Sources:

Smedley, T. (2013, January 25). Can ‘nexus thinking’ alleviate global water, food and energy pressures? The Guardian. Retrieved September 8, 2017, from

GRACE Communications Foundation. (2017). Nexus Food Water Energy. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

James Stone: Spotlight on food-energy-water systems (FEWS) researchers [Interview]. (2017, January 30). Retrieved September 8, 2017, from

WSU CAHNRS (Director). (2013, May 1). Anaerobic Digestion: Beyond Waste Management [Video file]. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from



Images and Video Sources (in order of usage):


University of Camridge. (2014, November). The Nexus Network. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

Ferbruar, F. (2017, July 28). Wate-energy-food nexus- which relations . Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

The Institute of International and European Affairs (Producer). (2013, February 20). WATER, ENERGY, FOOD – Nexus Thinking Explained [Video file]. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

UN Water. (2014, October 23). Water and food security. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

Heart Haiti Education and Resource Team. (2017). Biodigestion. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

WSU CAHNRS (Director). (2013, May 1). Anaerobic Digestion: Beyond Waste Management [Video file]. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

McGregor, D. (2014, June 9). Water Risk & National Security. China Water Risk. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

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