Environmental Convergence Opportunities in Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems

National Science Foundation

31 January 2024
United States of America
Research, Development and Innovation Natural Sciences
Research, Development and Innovation Social Sciences

Creating effective solutions to our most pressing environmental and sustainability challenges requires imaginative thinking - the kind that evolves when researchers from disparate fields, expertise, or perspectives fully immerse themselves in work toward a common goal. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), in their report "Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Addressing Grand Challenges," identified five critical challenges we must address as a society: sustainably supply food, water, and energy; curb climate change and adapt to its impacts; design a future without pollution and waste; create efficient, healthy, and resilient cities; and foster informed decisions and actions.

The report further states, "The challenges provide focal points for evolving environmental engineering education, research, and practice toward increased contributions and a greater impact. Implementing this new model will require modifications in educational curriculum and creative approaches to foster interdisciplinary research on complex social and environmental problems." This solicitation will support projects that tackle these grand challenges using a convergent research model that seamlessly integrates fundamental knowledge and expertise from the fields of chemical process, transport, and biological science and engineering with that of the sustainability and environmental engineering fields. A brief review of convergence research concepts and models can be found on the NSF website - Convergence Reports and References.

Accordingly, the Environmental Convergence Opportunities in Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (ECO-CBET) solicitation will support fundamental research activities that confront vexing environmental engineering and sustainability problems by developing foundational knowledge underlying processes and mechanisms such that the design of innovative new materials, processes, and systems is possible. Projects should be compelling and reflect sustained, coordinated efforts from highly interdisciplinary research teams. A key objective of the solicitation is to encourage dialogue and tightly integrated collaborations wherein members of the chemical process systems, transport phenomena, and bioengineering research communities engage with environmental engineering and sustainability experts to spark innovation and arrive at unanticipated solutions. Furthermore, training the future workforce to successfully engage in discipline-transcending research will support continued innovation toward surmounting the complex environmental and sustainability challenges facing our global community.

Process science and engineering, in the context of this solicitation, is broadly defined to include all programmatic interests of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Engineering's (ENG) Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET). These interests are outlined in the "core" program descriptions:

Chemical Process Systems (CPS) Cluster

Engineering Biology and Health (EBH) Cluster

Environmental Engineering and Sustainability (EES) Cluster

Transport Phenomena (TP) Cluster

Teams should be constructed such that expertise is both complementary and distinct, drawing inspiration from the CBET-supported research communities (see above programmatic clusters). Creative collaborations between the CBET research communities that do not typically intersect are highly encouraged. At least three named investigators must be identified, each of whom must possess a unique perspective or skillset that motivates the proposed approach(es). In addition to the three required investigators representing distinct CBET-supported research communities, teamsmay also wish to include investigators with expertise in manufacturing, other sciences, including social, behavioral, and economic sciences, or otherwise to extend the impact of the work.

While this solicitation is not restricted to a specific environmental engineering and sustainability research topic, the current solicitation emphasizes research topics related to curtailing climate change and mitigating the environmental impacts of climate change. Assuming sufficient funding is provided in the NSF budget, it is anticipated this competition will continue annually. Research topic priorities are subject to change in subsequent years. Awards are expected to range from $1,500,000 to $1,700,000 over four years. Budgets should be commensurate with the scope of the proposed research. Pending the availability of funds, awards have the potential to be renewed once for a total of eight years of support. Renewal of awards will be subject to a competitive merit review process.


*Who May Submit Proposals: Proposals may only be submitted by the following: -Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members.Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus. *Who May Serve as PI: PIs or co-PIs must hold primary, full-time, paid appointments in research or teaching positions at US-based campuses/offices of institutions eligible to submit to this solicitation (see above). A minimum of one PI and two co-PIs must participate in each proposal. Each PI is expected to contribute distinct expertise relevant to the program clusters of the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems. Please refer to the Program Description section of this solicitation for further information. The four program clusters are: Chemical Process Systems, Engineering Biology and Health, Environmental Engineering and Sustainability, and Transport Phenomena. Information about programs belonging to each cluster can be found on the CBET website.In addition to these three required investigators, co-PIs with expertise in manufacturing and/or other sciences, including social, behavioral, and economic sciences, may also be considered. If there are strong collaborations with industry, the Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) (PAPPG Chapter II) mechanism can be used in conjunction with this solicitation.In the case of a proposal submitted under the GOALI mechanism, the industrial co-PI need not hold a research or teaching position. While proposals must be led by an Institution of Higher Education, beneficial partnerships with non-profit, non-academic research organizations are allowed. Additional unfunded partners may include government agencies (including national labs), for-profit organizations, and international organizations.

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22 May 2023