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July 31st, 2012

NSF’s seeking proposals, making investment in sustainable chemistry, engineering and materials

Published on July 31st, 2012 | By: Ashley White

The National Science Foundation has announced a cross-directorate initiative in Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials. Created in response to the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (which called for NSF to establish a Green Chemistry Basic Research program), SusChEM will focus on opportunities for advances in research and education related to sustainable synthesis, use and reuse of chemicals and materials.

The research funded under SusChEM will aim to enable the basic science and engineering discoveries that will reduce dependence on nonrenewable resources and toxic materials, enable economical recycling of chemicals and materials and improve the efficiency and environmental impact of industrial processes.

The Division of Materials Research will participate in SusChEM through the Sustainable Materials effort, which encourages researchers to design materials and devices with their entire life cycle and environmental footprint in mind. Specific research topic suggestions include: materials and material systems for enhanced preservation and extension of natural resources; sustainability through material replacement; improved lifetime, performance and operational range of materials in extreme or harsh conditions; and materials designed for zero waste. In addition to the new science required to advance this initiative, success in improving materials sustainability will require a paradigm shift that encourages researchers to go beyond materials optimization by broadening their exposure to other disciplines and approaching sustainability from a total systems perspective.

Five divisions intend to participate in SusChEM in FY 2013: the Divisions of Chemistry and Materials Research in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate; the Divisions of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems, and Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation in the Engineering Directorate; and the Division of Earth Sciences in the Geosciences Directorate.

The president’s 2013 budget request to Congress included $27.2 million for SusChEM across NSF, of which $7.4 million is for DMR’s Sustainable Materials effort.

A Dear Colleague Letter announcing the SusChEM program can be found here.

More specific information regarding DMR’s interests in SusChEM (Sustainable Materials) can be found in a separate DCL here.

Additionally, NSF has sponsored some recent events on SusChEM-related topics. A forum entitled “The Many Facets of Sustainable Development” was held at the 2012 MRS Spring Meeting that highlighted the importance of multidisciplinary, holistic approaches to the science and engineering of sustainable development. More information on that event, including video recordings of keynote talks and panel discussions, is available here. A follow-up workshop is planned for the 2012 MRS Fall Meeting in conjunction with Symposium G: Materials as Tools for Sustainability. Also, an NSF-sponsored workshop was held in January in Arlington, Va., to assist in designing the SusChEM initiative by identifying key research approaches and advances necessary to advance its goals. A workshop report is expected to be published sometime this summer and will be available here.

The SusChEM activity is one of five slated for Fiscal Year 2013 under the NSF-wide Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability investment, and it is expected to continue in future years. Activities under the SEES umbrella are designed to advance science, engineering and education to inform societal actions aimed at environmental and economic sustainability.

Ashley White is a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation. Any opinion, finding, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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