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Technology for a Sustainable Environment

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Extramural Research Search

Special Announcements
A new document summarizing the accomplishments of the TSE Program is now available:
Technology for a Sustainable Environment Grant Program: A Decade of Innovation (PDF) (28 pp, 1.17 MB, about PDF)

Sustainability has many definitions, but its underlying concept remains the same: balancing environmental protection and social responsibility with a healthy economy over time. This concept of sustainability inspires public and private organizations to become better stewards of the environment. Green engineering and chemistry play an important role in creating the options that enable sustainability by developing chemicals, processes, products, and systems that are environmentally preferable, more energy- and resource-efficient, and often more cost-effective. These fields have grown and matured through the support of the Technology for a Sustainable Environment (TSE) grant program. Established ten years ago and funded jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program has invested over $50 million in innovative interdisciplinary research in green chemistry, green engineering, and industrial ecology at universities throughout the U.S. In addition to building fundamental knowledge, this investment has paid off with environmental, economic, and societal benefits.

The last TSE solicitation was issued in 2003. Through 2003, EPA and NSF awarded over $57 million for 205 research projects under the TSE program. Awards averaged approximately $120,000 per year, typically for a period of two to three years. Funded projects addressed technological issues of design, synthesis, processing, and the production, use, and ultimate disposal of products. The TSE program encouraged interdisciplinary approaches. Research teams came from a wide range of scientific fields, including environmental sciences, engineering, chemistry, microbiology, materials science, and social sciences. TSE-supported projects tend to be characterized as "on the cutting edge" or "high-risk/high-payoff." With its broader science-societal perspective, the TSE program supported innovative, problem-solving research that has not been funded under other programs. One NSF research priority that has shaped the TSE program is the focus on training and education of junior scientists and engineers in academia. Projects that provide both graduate and undergraduate students with experience in research, interdisciplinary educational activities, and student teamwork were strongly encouraged.

Geographically, TSE investigators have been located in 30 states across the U.S., with the highest number of grants in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia.

The Technology Continuum: Research is the first in a series of phases necessary for a new technology to achieve full-scale implementation and realization of its benefits. The rate at which technologies progress to commercialization varies and is dependent on factors beyond the quality of the science. 10 years is the typical timeframe for new pollution prevention technologies to achieve commercialization.1

TSE Research Areas and Grant Examples

Solvents Many solvents used throughout the chemical and other manufacturing industries are toxic, and their inadvertent release into the environment can harm the health of wildlife and humans. In addition, many solvents contain Volatile Organic Compounds that can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog. Dr. DeSimone received a TSE grant to develop carbon dioxide - based solvents where detergent-like surfactants allow CO2 to dissolve substances that would not normally be soluble.
Process The electroplating industry creates a very large volume of chemical waste each year. While waste minimization techniques have been available for some time, they have not been well characterized in terms of cost and efficiency. At Wayne State University, Dr. Yinlun Huang is using artificial intelligence techniques to develop an intelligent decision support system that can suggest techniques for waste minimization in electroplating plants of any size. This TSE-funded research has developed four pollution prevention technologies that reduce chemical solvent use and wastewater by 15 percent. Dr. Huang also found that the electroplating industry and local governments were supportive and receptive to these technologies.
Bioengineering There is a growing need to reduce dependency on fossil fuels with renewable resources, which help diversify the energy portfolio to ensure a constant energy supply even during times of crisis. Dr. Nancy Ho at Purdue University received a TSE grant to further develop a yeast-based ethanol synthesis process. Dr. Ho has genetically engineered or "bioengineered" yeast to more efficiently convert cellulosic plant material into ethanol, an alternative transport fuel that can be used directly or blended with gasoline. The use of ethanol has the further advantage of reducing dependency on foreign sources of oil, thus protecting the nation's energy security and reducing the trade deficit caused by importing oil.
Chemical Improvements The pulp and paper industry uses organic solvents to remove lignin, the color-causing substance in wood, from paper. The use of these solvents can result in the production of . Dr. Robin Rogers of the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa received a TSE grant to develop an environmentally benign water-based system for the removal of lignin. Dr. Rogers' new process more efficiently removes color from pulp without the use of organic solvents, thus eliminating the production of dioxins and reducing the sulfur content of paper, making both the process and the product more environmentally friendly.
Green Design and Industrial Ecology Green design and industrial ecology aim to manage the environmental impact of an industry using a systems approach, in which the acquisition, use, and disposal of water, energy, and materials and the relationships among them are documented, evaluated, and optimized. Dr. David Dornfeld at the University of California-Berkeley received a TSE grant to develop a comprehensive tool to assess the environmental impacts of semiconductor manufacturing. Environmental issues in semiconductor manufacturing addressed by the work include the release of potent global warming gasses and wastewater pollutants. The aim of Dr. Dornfeld's research is to support decisions that avoid negative impacts such as global warming and polluted wastewater, and conserve water, energy, and materials.
Fuels and Energy The burning of fossil fuels produces noxious gasses such as sulfur oxides , which contribute to acid rain. Conventional sulfur-removal technology is not able to easily reduce fuel sulfur levels to EPA standards. Dr. Chunshan Song and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University received a TSE grant to develop a new process that will efficiently remove the sulfur. The process under development is able to more selectively remove sulfur compounds under ambient temperatures and pressures, thus reducing the cost and energy of sulfur removal.


TSE solicitations are generally divided into three or four main research areas, including chemistry or chemical-reaction-based science for pollution prevention, engineering for pollution prevention, green systems and design for sustainable product realization, and sustainable construction processes. The program's scope has broadened over time such that the number of specific research topics has increased, though the major research areas have remained consistent. The first solicitations (1996, 1998) emphasized green chemistry, green engineering, and feedback techniques for pollution prevention. In the 1999 solicitation, Industrial Ecology was added as a topic. Also, collaboration with industry partners began to be strongly encouraged and was required for all second grant applications. The 2001 solicitation broadened to include sustainable product realization. In addition, applicants were required to explicitly state potential environmental impacts of their research. In the final solicitation, the 2003 solicitation, a research category was added for sustainable construction processes.

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