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Critical Aspects of Sustainability (CAS)

National Science Foundation
Deadline Notes: 
Full Proposal Accepted Anytime


Economic development and human progress have led to a proliferation of manufactured chemicals and materials made from limited resources found in nature (i.e., minerals and metals, petroleum-based products and natural gas). Long-term sustainability requires consideration of the availability of specific natural resources, energy, and water usage. NSF continues to support efforts that seek to improve the efficiency with which natural resources are used to meet human needs for products and services.  Sustainability research encompasses the design, manufacture and use of efficient, effective, safe and more environmentally-benign products and processes; stimulates innovation across all sectors to design and discover new chemicals and materials, production processes, and product stewardship practices; and, increases performance and value while meeting the goals of protecting and enhancing human health and the environment. 

This program seeks to support basic research through core disciplinary programs aimed at improving the sustainability of resources for future generations while maintaining or improving current products in order to offer technologically-advanced, economically competitive, environmentally-benign and useful materials to a global society. In order to address these challenges, the program aims to identify opportunities for innovation in a wide range of contributing disciplines as well as integrative activities.  This program encourages the development of new experimental and theoretical/modeling approaches that will aid in both reductionist and whole-systems approaches. 

This program welcomes proposals in any area of research supported through the participating divisions that address the topics outlined below. The selected topics are of particular interest to core disciplinary programs in the participating divisions and do not include all funding opportunities and priorities in the area or sustainability at NSF. Proposals are submitted to the relevant core Programs indicated below in the participating Divisions, and all questions regarding proposals should be addressed by the cognizant Program Officers to which submission is contemplated. Proposals should be submitted with the "CAS:" prefix in the title.  

The Division of Chemistry (CHE/MPS) welcomes proposals to its Disciplinary Research Programs, including Chemical Catalysis (CAT), Chemical Measurement and Imaging (CMI), Chemical Structure, Dynamics and Mechanisms-A (CSDM-A), Chemical Structure Dynamics and Mechanisms-B (CSDM-B), Chemical Synthesis (SYN), Chemical Theory, Models and Computational Methods (CTMC), Chemistry of Life Processes (CLP), Environmental Chemical Sciences (ECS), and Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry (MSN). All proposals must be on chemical aspects of sustainability.

  • The design, preparation and reactivity studies associated with new catalysts and catalytic processes that employ earth-abundant and benign elements and raw materials; advanced catalytic methods for the reduction of dinitrogen to ammonia and water splitting are also invited; Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) proposals, where such advances are connected directly to industrial considerations, are also encouraged.
  • Understanding the molecular mechanisms of the two-way communication between the environment and living systems as well as between organisms situated in changing environments; design and test methods that could confer resilience and/or could foster adaptability of living systems subject to changing environments.
  • Innovative measurement and imaging approaches that can improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes, including advances in separation science targeting reduced energy consumption or generation of less waste.
  • Fundamental studies related to sustainable energy such as chromophores based on earth abundant elements, advanced electrolytes for battery, water splitting, and carbon dioxide conversions.
  • Understanding the environmental chemical degradation of contaminants, including emerging contaminants.
  • Transformative approaches to efficient and inexpensive synthesis of polymers or nanostructures using renewable feedstocks or earth abundant elements; and innovative research that enhances the understanding of efficient use and recycling of polymers and critical elements or the conversion of energy from renewable sources.
  • The development of new synthetic methods using earth-abundant and inexpensive chemicals, fundamental studies that improve our understanding of rare earth elements; the conversion of non-petroleum-based resources into useful building blocks; and new environmentally-friendly chemical syntheses that improve on current practice by requiring less energy, fresh water, reagents, and/or organic solvents.
  • Other CHE programs also welcome proposals on this general topic, as long as the proposals fit the scope of the program.

All questions regarding proposals to CHE should be addressed to the cognizant Program Officers for the Program to which submission is contemplated (see CHE Program webpages,

The Division of Materials Research (DMR/MPS) welcomes proposals to its Topical Materials Research Programs, including Biomaterials (BMAT), Ceramics (CER), Condensed Matter and Materials Theory (CMMT), Condensed Matter Physics (CMP), Electronic and Photonic Materials (EPM), Metals and Metallic Nanostructures (MMN), Polymers (POL), and Solid State and Materials Chemistry (SSMC).  All proposals must be on materials aspects of sustainability and focused on fundamental materials-research approaches.

  • CER, CMMT, EPM, MMN, and SSMC will consider proposals on all materials aspects of sustainability.   BMAT encourages proposals that take advantage of synthetic biology or other innovative and sustainable approaches (e.g., renewable, recyclable, environmentally benign).   CMP encourages proposals on replacing rare-earth elements in magnetic materials with more abundant and accessible elements; also proposals exploring materials alternatives to oxides for nuclear reactor fuel, aiming at improved stability and properties (e.g., thermal conductivity) and decreased environmental impact.  POL welcomes proposals that address plastics waste accumulation through innovative materials approaches and environmentally benign polymeric materials having properties exceeding those of current commercial plastics.
  • All proposals must be submitted through one of the active solicitations of the DMR Topical Materials Research Programs (currently NSF 17-580, 18-500, and 19-515) and must follow the deadlines, instructions, and limitations of these solicitations.  Proposals that are not in accordance with these guidelines or that fall outside the scope of DMR and its Topical Materials Research Programs will be returned without review. 

All questions regarding proposals to DMR should be addressed to the cognizant Program Officers for the Program to which submission is contemplated (see DMR Program webpages,

The Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems Division (CBET/ENG) has several core programs that review proposals on research topics related to sustainability, including Molecular Separations (MolS), Biosensing, Environmental Sustainability (EnvS), Biological and Environmental Interactions of Nanoscale Materials (BioNano), Combustion and Fire Systems (CFS), and Particulate and Multiphase Processes (PMP).  Within these programs, as noted, the following topics are of particular interest:

  • Understanding the fundamental combustion properties of sustainable aviation fuels under engine relevant conditions. (CFS)
  • Fundamental studies leading to effective methods of processing multiphase fluid systems that minimize waste, avoid contamination, enhance purity, or lead to novel materials that benefit efficient energy utilization. (PMP)
  • The development of innovative separation mechanisms, mass separating agents, or engineering processes that aim to substantially reduce energy and/or material consumption in the chemical process industries. (MolS)
  • Fundamental mechanistic investigations for the development, sustainable production and use of nanomaterials, nanoparticles, nanodevices and nanosystems. (BioNano)
  • Biosensing systems with inherent capabilities of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decision making for applications in real time monitoring of environmental and living systems and in evaluating environmentally benign chemicals and materials. (Biosensing)
  • Industrial Ecology: Topics of interest in Industrial Ecology include advancements in modeling such as life cycle assessment, materials flow analysis, input/output economic models, and novel metrics for measuring sustainable systems. Innovations in industrial ecology are encouraged. (EnvS)
  • Green Engineering: Research is encouraged to advance the sustainability of manufacturing processes, green buildings, and infrastructure. Improvements in distribution and collection systems that will advance smart growth strategies and ameliorate effects of growth are supported. Innovations in management of storm water, recycling and reuse of drinking water, and other green engineering techniques to support sustainability may also be fruitful areas for research. (EnvS)
  • Ecological Engineering: Topics should focus on the engineering aspects of restoring ecological function to natural systems. Engineering research in the enhancement of natural capital to foster sustainable development is encouraged. (EnvS) 
  • Earth Systems Engineering: Earth systems engineering considers aspects of large scale engineering research that involve mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to climate change, and other global scale concerns. (EnvS) 

All questions regarding proposals to CBET should be addressed to the cognizant Program Officers for the participating Program to which submission is contemplated (see CBET Program webpages,

For the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI/ENG), proposals addressing sustainable materials processing are welcome. Of interest are manufacturing processes with reduced use of toxic components, such as solvents, carbon emissions, and pollutants; processes under ambient conditions, as opposed to extreme temperatures, pressures or other harsh conditions; and increased conservation of natural resources, such as water, raw material, and energy. Proposals to CMMI must be submitted to the Advanced Manufacturing (AM) Program and align with the scope of the program. 

All questions regarding proposals to CMMI should be addressed to the cognizant Program Officers for the participating Program to which submission is contemplated (see CMMI Program webpages,

The Division of Earth Sciences (EAR/GEO) welcomes fundamental and transformational geosciences projects addressing the distribution of Critical Minerals and Materials in the Earth. The following programs in the division support research on this topic:  Petrology and Geochemistry (CH), Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry (GG), and Frontier Research in Earth Sciences (FRES).  

Topics of particular interest include fundamental studies of the geochemistry of Critical Earth Minerals and Materials (CMM), such as:

  • Identifying new sources of critical minerals on the Earth’s surface;
  • Constraining their pathways in the natural environment involving concentration by Earth and geobiological processes; and
  • Developing methods for sustainable exploration of these CMMs.  Studies can be based on laboratory, field, or modeling efforts, and should have a strong emphasis on training the next generation of geoscientists and educating the public on the importance of CMM. 

Proposals must be submitted through one of the active solicitations of the three programs and must follow the deadlines and guidelines of these solicitations.

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