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UTSA receives $1 million to advance research and workforce development in green energy and sustainability

UTSA receives $1 million to advance research and workforce development in green energy and sustainability

OCTOBER, 20, 2020 — The University of Texas at San Antonio has received a four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to advance research, technology development, student training and the diversity of students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The Bioenergy and Water for Agriculture Research and Education (BE AWARE 2) Network is a consortium led by Krystel Castillo, director of the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, GreenStar Endowed Associate Professor in Energy and VP in Energy Efficiency for the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute. It involves several partners including The University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, San Antonio College, South Texas College and multiple U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies.


“[This research] helps us to shape the future economic prosperity, health, and food security of our region for generations to come.”



Nowadays, concerns are growing over the ability of the modern smart agriculture systems to simultaneously achieve security and environmental sustainability. The increased penetration of Internet of Things (IoT) based smart security and monitoring devices allows farmers to collect data with a high granularity and in enormous quantities; however, security issues are a latent concern. Additionally, the use of machine learning as well as artificial intelligence techniques is revolutionizing the decision-making support systems in smart agriculture. Yet, the dominant tendency is to conceptualize diverse smart agriculture systems (e.g., biofuels, food, water, etc.) as separate, disconnected issues, which is a key barrier to educational transformation.

BE AWARE 2 will continue and expand efforts to provide research opportunities and transdisciplinary training in IoT security, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence for the optimization and design of integrated bioenergy and water systems.

“The BE AWARE 2 team will work towards addressing the shortage of trained workforce in data analytics to optimize smart agriculture with a holistic systems perspective,” said Castillo.

BE AWARE 2 trains a future workforce with a strong baseline understanding of data-driven agriculture systems by engaging students in research projects showing the integrative nature of biofuel production and water remediation. BE AWARE 2 aims to identify frontiers in agriculture and devise the future of data-driven agriculture systems.

 “The holistic approach and training in data-driven integrated systems will allow fellows to address challenges from a science, experimental, analytical and computational integrated approach,” said Castillo.

The long-term impact, Castillo added, will be to create a competitive workforce, able to design and manage smart agriculture systems to increase the economic competitiveness of the United States.

“This type of research, which directly impacts our communities while engaging a broad network of academic and government partners, is a perfect example of how UTSA and the College of Engineering seeks to serve our society,” said, JoAnn Browning, dean, UTSA College of Engineering. “The work that Dr. Castillo and her colleagues will complete helps us to shape the future economic prosperity, health, and food security of our region for generations to come.”


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UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA’s Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA’s Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.