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
- Electrochemical Systems
- Interfacial Engineering
- Process Systems, Reaction Engineering, and Molecular Thermodynamics
Engineering Biology and Health (EBH) Cluster
- Cellular and Biochemical Engineering
- Disability and Rehabilitation Engineering
- Engineering of Biomedical Systems
Environmental Engineering and Sustainability (EES) Cluster
Transport Phenomena (TP) Cluster
- Combustion and Fire Systems
- Fluid Dynamics
- Particulate and Multiphase Processes
- Thermal Transport Processes
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, teams may 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.
Bruce K. Hamilton
Steven M. Zehnder