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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research


Technology for a Sustainable Environment

EPA/NSF Joint Competition
Interagency Announcement of Opportunity



As a nation, we seek long-term economic growth that creates jobs while improving and sustaining the environment. It is increasingly clear that the "end-of-pipe" pollution controls are not a sufficient means of reaching these goals. A new generation of cleaner industrial manufacturing and processing technologies is needed that supports pollution prevention, efficient resource use, and industrial ecology. Such a strategy can help companies become more competitive by lowering resource and energy needs, reducing waste and emissions control costs, and fostering sustainable development.

This competition is designed to address pollution prevention processes, methodologies, and technology research. Research proposals are invited that advance the development and use of innovative technologies and approaches directed at avoiding or minimizing the generation of pollutants at the source. This competition is not intended to address issues related to waste monitoring, treatment, remediation, or containment other than those aspects that pertain to in-process recycling of waste. Research in the areas of remediation and treatment of hazardous materials, while very important, is supported by other program activities in both agencies.

NSF and EPA are providing funds for fundamental and applied research in the physical sciences and engineering that will lead to the discovery, development, and evaluation of advanced and novel environmentally benign methods for industrial processing and manufacturing. The competition addresses technological environmental issues of design, synthesis, processing, and the production and use of products in continuous and discrete manufacturing industries. Projects must employ fundamental new approaches and address, or be relevant to, current national concerns for pollution prevention.


Chemistry for Pollution Prevention

The long-range goal of this program activity is to develop safer commercial substances and environmentally friendly chemical syntheses to reduce risks posed by existing practices. Pollution prevention has become the preferred strategy for reducing the risks posed by the manufacture, use, and disposal of commercial chemicals. A fundamental approach, a "green chemistry" approach, is to prevent pollution at its source, which includes:

  • Design of alternative synthetic pathways for new or existing chemicals which do not utilize toxic reagents or solvents or do not produce toxic by-products or co-products.
  • Design or redesign of useful chemicals and materials such that they are less toxic to health and the environment or safer with regard to accident potential.
  • Appropriate areas of investigation include: chemical synthesis and catalysis; analysis and detection; separation processes; and reaction mechanisms. Examples include:
  • Use of innovative methods such as catalysis and biocatalysis; photochemistry or biomimetic synthesis; and use of alternative starting materials which are innocuous or renewable.
  • Use of creative reaction conditions, such as using solvents which have a reduced impact on health and the environment or increasing reaction selectivity thus reducing wastes and emissions.

Engineering for Pollution Prevention.

The focus of this program activity is to develop novel engineering approaches for preventing or reducing pollution from industrial manufacturing activities, both for continuous and discrete processes. The scope includes: equipment and technology modifications, reformulation or redesign of products, substitution of alternative materials, and in-process changes. Although these methods are often thought of in relation to the chemical, biochemical, and materials process industries, they can be utilized in many other industries-such as semiconductor manufacturing systems. Potential areas of research include:

  • Novel, cost-effective methods for the highly efficient in-process separation of useful materials from the components of the process waste stream, for example, field-enhanced and hybrid separation processes.
  • Materials substitutions and process alternatives which prevent or reduce environmental harm, such as change of raw material or the use of less hazardous solvents, organic coatings, and metal plating systems.
  • New bulk materials and coatings with durability, long life, and other desirable engineering properties that can be manufactured with reduced environmental impact.
  • Improved reactor, catalyst, or process design in order to increase product yield. Approaches might include novel reactors such as reactor-separation combinations that provide for product separation during the reaction, alternative energy sources for reaction initiation, and integrated process design and operation.
  • Development of environmental technologies that use physical processes to alter biologically refractory pollutants-both known and potential-into forms that are amenable to biodegradation.
  • New or improved manufacturing processes that reduce production of hazardous effluents at the source. Examples include: machining without the use of cutting fluids that currently require disposal after they are contaminated; eliminating toxic electroplating solutions by replacing them with ion or plasma-based dry plating techniques.
  • Improved manufacturing processes that employ novel thermal or fluid and/or multiphase/particulate systems resulting in significantly lower hazardous effluent production. Examples include: novel refrigeration cycles using safe and environmentally-benign working fluids to replace halogenated hydrocarbons hazardous to upper atmosphere ozone levels; improved automobile combustion process design for reduced pollutant production.
  • Optimization of process manufacturing operations to prevent, reduce, or eliminate waste. Concepts include: increased in-process or in-plant recycling and improved and intelligent process control and sensing capabilities; in-process techniques that minimize generation of pollutants in industrial waste incineration processes.

Measurement, Assessment, and Feedback Techniques for Pollution Prevention.

This competition also encourages research in physical sciences and engineering that will lead to the development of novel measurement and assessment techniques for pollution prevention. Topics in this program activity include life cycle analysis, computational simulations, and process design algorithms for product life cycle analysis, as well as the development of appropriate measurement methods to use as input for such analyses. The methods developed should provide the basis for scientifically sound and quantitative comparisons of the environmental impact of various technologies. The following examples provide some areas of investigation:

  • Innovative, full scale, quantitative methodologies for conducting life cycle analysis which permit sound quantitative comparisons of impacts of different pollutants on different media.
  • Streamlined, targeted life cycle analysis and environmental product design methodologies and systems that can provide scientifically sound comparisons with less comprehensive data inputs and computational analysis.
  • Algorithms incorporating pollution prevention into process design, intelligent control, and simulation methodologies for process and manufacturing design.
  • Process simulator modules for new technologies such as novel membrane processes.
  • Improved and intelligent sensors and control algorithms for real time, in-process multivariate control of manufacturing equipment and systems to reduce waste material and hazardous emissions.


The NSF/EPA Technology for a Sustainable Environment activity is an integral part of EPA's research program and supports the Green Chemistry, Common Sense Initiative, and other pollution prevention activities in the Agency. For NSF, this activity is an integral part of its Environmentally Benign Chemical Synthesis and Processing program and its Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing program as described below.

Environmental Protection Agency

Green Chemistry Program: This program is directed at preventing pollution by promoting design of less toxic chemical substances and identifying alternative chemical pathways that involve less toxic reagents or solvents and generate fewer toxicity-products or co-products. As part of this program, EPA has initiated the Green Chemistry Challenge. The Challenge includes an awards component to recognize those in industry and academia who have met the Green Chemistry objectives in an exemplary way, and a research component to enhance support for cutting edge research in this area.

Common Sense Initiative: EPA's Common Sense Initiative is directed toward finding better, cheaper, and faster ways of achieving environmental improvement through a stakeholder-based dialogue in six specific industrial sectors: metal finishing, printing, iron and steel, electronics, automobile assembly , and petroleum refining.

National Science Foundation

Environmentally Benign Chemical Synthesis and Processing (EBCS&P): This program, described in NSF 92-13, is aimed at preventing pollution by providing financial support for fundamental research in the identification of environmentally benign synthesis and related manufacturing processes. For the NSF Engineering Directorate's Chemical and Transport Systems Division, the Technology for a Sustainable Environment activity subsumes the EBCS&P activity in Fiscal Year 1996. For the NSF Directorate of Mathematics and Physical Science's Division of Chemistry, research proposals are also accepted for EBCS&P activities throughout the year as part of its normal review process, as well as through this special NSF/EPA activity.

Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing (ECM): This competition addresses specific aspects of the Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing Initiative Announcement, NSF 95-91. Therefore in Fiscal Year 1996, the ECM activity is largely subsumed in this announcement. However, only those areas described in this solicitation will be considered; proposals in all other ECM topic areas may be submitted under the normal procedures for unsolicited NSF proposals to the relevant divisions. Copies of NSF 95-91 announcement are available upon request and can also be obtained via STIS and the World Wide Web.


A clearer understanding of problems and more creative solutions often result from collaboration of academic and industrial investigators who represent the eventual customers for the products of the research. Therefore, applicants are encouraged to seek meaningful project collaboration with industrial partners on fundamental research issues that link basic and applied aspects of pollution prevention. In some cases, state government agencies, or other professional organizations may be an appropriate substitute for an industrial partner. The NSF Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program announcement (NSF 94-138) outlines several possible approaches. Additional approaches will also be considered.

Proposals may be submitted by individuals or small groups who are working on projects that will advance the concepts and technologies of pollution prevention. Researchers in a broad range of disciplines are encouraged to help fill the knowledge gaps in this area both individually and as interdisciplinary teams.

Researchers from both academic and non-profit institutions may apply for support (see Section 5.0). Projects involving the training and education of junior scientists and engineers (such as graduate students) in academia through the research experience are strongly encouraged.

Approximately $5 million will be available for the Technology for a Sustainable Environment competition, with a projected award range from $75,000 to $150,000 per award year, and a duration of up to 3 years. Multi-investigator projects may be considered for a higher funding level. Multi-year funding of any project will be considered. Respondents wishing to propose projects for more than one year should include annual budgets and should justify this need. Proposals that include resource contributions (cost sharing) from submitters and/or their partners will receive special consideration.

In the present competition, reviewers will consider the potential impact of the research on pollution prevention, in addition to NSF's standard review criteria described in Section 7.0 of this announcement.

Please see Section 6.0 for complete instructions for proposal submission.

Proposals received by NSF under its normal unsolicited proposal mechanisms may also be deemed appropriate for consideration by the Technology for a Sustainable Environment competition, and may be funded under this joint program.

The total number of awards for this activity is dependent upon the technical merit of the proposals, their relation to the agencies' mission, and the financial support available to both agencies for this program. Projects selected for support may receive funds either individually from NSF or EPA, or selected projects may be jointly supported by both agencies. This is at the agencies' option, not the grantee's.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Robert Wellek
Internet: rwellek@nsf.gov
fax (703) 306-0319

Dr. Marge Cavanaugh
Internet: mcavanau@nsf.gov
voice (703) 306-1842

Mr. Stephen A. Lingle
Internet: lingle.stephen@epamail.epa.gov
voice (202) 260-5748

Return to NSF 96-45 NSF/EPA Partnership for Environmental Research FY 1996

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