Posted: 4/18/2022

Dear Colleague Letter: Critical Aspects of Sustainability (CAS): Innovative Solutions to Climate Change

September 30, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

This Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) encourages the science and engineering communities to develop forward-thinking research that will demonstrably aid in the Nation's goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and developing approaches for adapting to the change that is already occurring. CAS: Innovative Solutions to Climate Change is a call to action that encourages the submission of certain types of proposals to appropriate existing NSF core programs to lay the foundation for disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and to answer fundamental questions related to novel approaches and solutions to climate change. NSF's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs are also interested in supporting entrepreneurial efforts on these topic areas. As outlined in more detail below, research ideas focused on short- and long-term sustainable solutions are sought as are conference (workshop) proposals that identify specific gaps in existing research approaches. The project description should clearly articulate climate relevance and contribute to new approaches regarding innovative solutions that address climate change mitigation and adaptation.

A recent report published by the National Academies in 2021 highlights the need for transforming the world's energy system to one with net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in response to climate change.1 The report calls for expanding our innovation toolkit by investing in new technology and reducing the cost of existing technology in a socially just way. Other reports, listed below, provide guidance on research needs and recommended strategies for both climate mitigation and adaptation.2-15


This DCL encourages the submission of conference (workshop), GOALI, or standard research proposals to appropriate existing NSF core programs to lay the foundation for disciplinary and interdisciplinary research on innovative solutions to climate change. NSF's SBIR and STTR Programs also seek proposals in this area as a way of kickstarting small businesses with deep technical solutions to climate change. Conference (workshop) proposals are required to be interdisciplinary and bring research communities together to develop novel solutions to mitigating or adapting to climate change. The budget of a conference (workshop) proposal is generally limited to $50,000, but under exceptional circumstances may be supported up to $100,000. The Division of Chemistry (CHE) and the Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) are also interested in supporting high-risk, high-reward EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) and Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE) proposals. For EAGERs and RAISEs, proposers are required to send email inquiries indicating relevance to CHE or EAR to Proposals submitted in response to this DCL are encouraged to involve participants who are members of underrepresented groups and institutions. Proposals submitted to the GCR program should be research proposals consistent with the GCR solicitation.

Prospective principal investigators must send an email inquiry to prior to submission to ascertain whether the proposal is suitable for CAS: Innovative Solutions to Climate Change DCL and for the specific program or programs in one of the participating divisions or offices. In the email inquiry, the PI should provide an indication of the target program(s) for the proposed topic in the participating divisions. Please note that the PI-indicated target program may not be the only program that will consider the submitted inquiry. Research concept outlines or brief summaries (no longer than 2 pages) are required for conference (workshop) and EAGER and RAISE proposals, and are encouraged for standard research proposals. These should be submitted by email to If the topic is found suitable, PIs will be directed to submit the proposal to the proper, existing disciplinary research program in one of the participating divisions. Guidance on the preparation and submission of standard research proposals is contained in Chapter II of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Specific guidance on the other types of proposals that may be submitted in response to this DCL (i.e., Conference, GOALI, EAGER and RAISE) can be found in PAPPG Chapter II.E. The titles for all submissions should include the prefix "CAS-Climate:", after PAPPG or solicitation specific title requirements.

Areas of Interest

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 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.

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). 

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. 

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).