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NSF to award up to $17.9M for research in catalysis and bio-catalysis, bio-engineering, and process and reaction engineering

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued three separate solicitations for up to a combined $17.9 million in awards for research projects in Catalysis and Bio-Catalysis ($4.8 million, 16 awards); Biotechnology, Biochemical, and Biomass Engineering ($8.2 million, 34 awards); and Process and Reaction Engineering ($4.9 million, 47 awards).

Catalysis and Bio-Catalysis (PD-13-1401). Programs in the Catalysis and Bio-Catalysis area encompass a blend of fundamental and innovative applied research drivers, NSF says. All programs are hypothesis-driven, and the experimental programs aimed at resolving the issues frequently combine a variety of approaches. Chemical engineering and chemistry are intertwined. Proposals which receive funding in this Program may include any number of the following broad scopes:

  • Catalyst Synthesis, Characterization, Behavior and Performance
  • Kinetics and Mechanisms of Key Catalytic Reactions
  • Catalysis at Surfaces or in Reactor Process Streams
  • Synthesis and Fabrication of Component Materials and Catalyst Composites
  • Modeling and Fundamental Studies of a Catalyst or Catalytic Process
  • Catalysts and Studies for Renewable Energy Systems

These approaches apply equally to classical inorganic or carbon catalysts as well as to enzymatic or biocatalysts. NSF highly desires applications-driven studies, such as biomass-conversion catalysis, electrocatalysis and photocatalysis, involving energy interconversion devices or systems employing catalysts.

Most studies will focus on the catalysis of one or more chemical reactions with products including molecules used for fuels, energy sources, feedstocks, fine chemicals, bulk chemicals and specialized materials.

NSF suggests heightened interest be given to proposals relating to processes and catalysts for conversions of biomass to fuels and chemicals, for development of renewable energy sources and for transition to green or environmentally benign products and processes. Submissions investigating unique nanoparticle or biomimetic catalysis are welcome.

The duration of unsolicited awards is generally one to three years. The typical annual award size for the program is $100,000.

Biotechnology, Biochemical, and Biomass Engineering (PD-13-1491). The Biotechnology, Biochemical, and Biomass Engineering (BBBE) program supports fundamental engineering research that advances the understanding of cellular and biomolecular processes (in vivo, in vitro, and/or ex vivo) and eventually leads to the development of enabling technology and/or applications in support of the biopharmaceutical, biotechnology, and bioenergy industries, or with applications in health or the environment. Quantitative assessments of bioprocesses are considered vital to successful research projects in the BBBE program.

Fundamental to many research projects in this area is the understanding of how biomolecules and cells interact in their environment, and how those molecular level interactions lead to changes in structure, function, phenotype, and/or behavior. The program encourages proposals that address emerging research areas and technologies that effectively integrate knowledge and practices from different disciplines, and effectively incorporate ongoing research into educational activities.

Research projects of particular interest in BBBE include, but are not limited to:

  • Metabolic engineering and synthetic biology
  • Quantitative systems biotechnology
  • Tissue engineering and stem cell culture technologies
  • Protein engineering/protein design
  • Development of novel “omics” tools for biotechnology applications

The duration of unsolicited awards is generally one to three years. The average annual award size for the program is $100,000 for individual investigators and $200,000 for multiple investigators.

Proposals in the areas of nanobiotechnology, fermentation, cell culture, recombinant DNA, and enzyme technology will still be accepted, given that they represent highly innovative and potentially transformative research in these areas.

Process and Reaction Engineering. (PD-13-1403). The Process and Reaction Engineering program supports fundamental and applied research on:

  • Rates and mechanisms of important classes of catalyzed and uncatalyzed chemical reactions as they relate to the design, production, and application of catalysts, chemical processes, biochemical processes, and specialized materials.

  • Chemical and biochemical phenomena occurring at or near solid surfaces and interfaces.

  • Electrochemical and photochemical processes of engineering significance or with commercial potential.

  • Design and optimization of complex chemical and biochemical processes.

  • Dynamic modeling and control of process systems and individual process unit.

  • Reactive processing of polymers, ceramics, and thin films.

  • Interactions between chemical reactions and transport processes in reactive systems, and the use of this information in the design of complex chemical and biochemical reactors.

The Process and Reaction Engineering program funds research in: chemical and biochemical reaction engineering, process design and control, and reactive polymer processing. Within these three areas, research supported is focused as follows:

  • Chemical Reaction Engineering. The area encompasses the interaction of transport phenomena and kinetics in reactive systems and the use of this knowledge in the design of complex chemical and biochemical reactors. Focus areas include non-traditional reactor systems such as membrane reactors, microreactors, and reactions in supercritical fluids; novel activation techniques such as plasmas, acoustics, and microwaves; and multifunctional systems synthesis such as “smart” molecules, “chemical laboratory on a chip,” “chemical factory on a chip” concepts, bioreactor design and bioprocess optimization, and fermentation technology. The program also supports new approaches for generating energy from renewable resources as well as optimizing new approaches in all areas such as developing atomic layer deposition for microelectronic devices.

  • Process Design and Control. These areas encompass the design and optimization of complex chemical and biochemical processes and the dynamic modeling and control of process systems and individual process units. High priority research topics include simultaneous product and process design, including bioprocesses; increased plant efficiency by algorithms that communicate across design levels and incorporate multiple criteria such as profitability, safety, operability, environmental sustainability, and societal concerns; and new sensor development to measure composition, product properties, morphology, etc.

    Systems approaches that span and optimize across multiple scales, from nano to mega, and integrate planning and scheduling and the globalization of the industrial applications are also of interest to the program. Utilization of the latest in cyberinfrastructure resources including hardware at the tera- and peta-scale is encouraged.

  • Reactive Polymer Processing. This program scope is limited in the polymerization area to research that integrates synthesis (chemical reaction of monomers to form polymer chains or complexes) and processing steps (steps that orient and anneal polymer melts and affect the long range conformations and consequently their properties). Typical projects are in the areas of emulsion and miniemulsion polymerization, reaction injection molding, etc. Program focus is on addressing environmental concerns while producing tailor-made molecules and materials.

The duration of unsolicited awards is generally one to three years. The average annual award size for the program is $100,000.


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