Penn State’s Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE) Seed Grant Program is intended to foster basic and applied research on strategic interdisciplinary topics that leverage faculty expertise across the University. Since 2013, IEE has awarded over $2 million to 96 interdisciplinary projects across 15 Penn State colleges and campuses. This year, up to $400,000 of program funding is available.

The Seed Grant Program strives to:

  • Develop new interdisciplinary research teams and position them for substantial external funding success;
  • Pursue novel research in IEE’s theme areas, especially high-risk proof of concept projects; and
  • Promote research development and mentorship between junior and senior faculty.

Important Dates


Time Event
November 6, 2019 12:15–1 p.m.

Informational webinar for program questions

Webinar Presentation

Webinar Recording

December 4, 2019 5 p.m.

Proposals due 

February 6, 2020 5p.m.

Funding decisions announced

April 1, 2020 -- Grant funds made available and must be expended by June 30, 2021

Download a PDF version of the RFP


IEE is seeking proposals that address at least one of our core themes or the special cross-cutting topics described below. 

Special Cross-Cutting Topics

  1. Integrated Energy Systems. As energy systems transition from a fossil fuel-based infrastructure to a greater dependence on renewable energy systems, we need to examine how best to integrate these different systems in terms of the methods for production, utilization, and impact mitigation. Within this context, there are several areas of interest: renewable and hybrid energy technologies and systems, with a focus on developing renewable energy conversion systems and bridging these technologies with energy storage or the use of low carbon content fuels; smart energy systems, to better integrate energy production and consumption through system-level smart controls and microgrids; impact mitigation systems improve the safety of water, minerals, land, and other resources used for energy production; and system analysis methods to for examining energy use tradeoffs relative to CO2 emissions, for example by using different transportation methods.
  2. Negative Carbon Emissions. At a global level, aggressive climate action plans increasingly require substantial negative emissions, sometimes achieved through enhancing CO2 uptake by ecosystems including forests, wetlands and agricultural systems (these are called natural solutions), and/or by implementing technologies that result in negative carbon emissions. Technology-based solutions include Direct Air Capture (DAC); Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS); biochar or microbe-enhanced soil carbon sequestration; CO2 utilization in chemicals and polymers; and long-lived bioproducts such as non-biodegradable bioplastics and mass timber construction. Proposals are sought that address the technical, biophysical and socio-political opportunities and challenges associated both natural and technical solutions that generate negative emissions. All proposals for this topic must include a technical, economic, and/or policy assessment of the carbon sequestration potential.
  3. Resilience of Environmental or Energy Systems. Resilience can be defined as the capacity of a system to “bounce back” from stressors, through reorganization and adaptation, in order to maintain systems structure, function, and identity.  Environmental systems are under increasing pressures from natural disturbances (for example, fires, floods, or drought), many of which are accelerating due to changes in climate.  New strategies are needed to support resilience of these systems, and the ecosystem services they provide. Similarly, the resilience of institutional, infrastructural and energy systems to stressors (for example, increasing demand and environmental shocks) is critical to ensure sustainable provisioning of energy and other goods/services to a growing human population.  The lens of resilience offers an opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary research urgently needed to support decision-making that addresses energy and environmental challenges.
  4. Water. Water is essential to the health of people and communities, ecosystems, regional and national economies, and the security of nations, supporting personal health, food production, manufacturing, energy generation, recreation, and a spectrum of other socially-valued ecosystem services.  The challenges of droughts, floods, and degraded water quality – which serve to underscore our dependence on a balanced quantity and adequate quality of water – are expanding with the demands of a growing global population. We seek inter-disciplinary, innovative research that advances water and water-related solutions addressing technical and socio-political challenges across diverse areas of investigation such as the water-energy-food nexus; water-related climate dynamics; sustainability and resilience of built environments; ecosystem protection and restoration; stormwater and wastewater management; emerging contaminants; and advanced technologies, such as instrumentation, monitoring, and data analytics.

Core Strategic Research Themes

  1. Climate and Ecosystem Change. Managing the risks of anthropogenic climate change poses significant challenges at the nexus of natural and social sciences, ethics, engineering, and mathematics. Penn State has the critical mass to become a world leader in this area. Realizing this potential, however, requires integrated assessment of system interactions leading to societal change. This will in turn require investments in mission-oriented basic research across the involved disciplines. Major initiatives within this theme include, but are not limited to: Climate variability and change; ecosystem productivity and biodiversity; stressors and resilience; food and water security; and polar science.
  2. Future Energy Supply. New sources of power generation will undoubtedly be needed to meet skyrocketing world energy demand. Penn State researchers are positioned to lead efforts to support a scalable, innovative, and clean energy portfolio that meets the world’s need for reliable energy sources while considering the economic, environmental, health and climate effects of energy generation. These technologies include, but are not limited to: Biomass energy; coal utilization for fossil & renewable energy; unconventional shales; solar photoconversion; next generation nuclear power; and wind energy.
  3. Smart Energy Systems. The International Energy Outlook 2013 projects that world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040. The importance of energy efficiency and smart energy systems to help meet growing energy demand without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions – in the built environment, for transportation, and elsewhere – has never been greater. In addition to work on energy systems and their supporting infrastructure, Penn State has world class research on clean and efficient energy utilization strategies for engines, turbines, fuel cells, refrigeration, and many other devices. Implementation of new solutions has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, but significant technical, social and systems-level analysis is required for such solutions to fulfill their promises.  Innovation and analysis is needed on topics such as: Smart infrastructure development (energy grid, transportation, buildings, etc.); advanced information and control systems; CO2 capture, sequestration, and utilization; and energy storage,
  4. Water and Biogeochemical Cycles. Population growth, development, and environmental changes put increasing stresses on water resources throughout the world. Water is at the nexus of the energy-environment relationship, and water scarcity involves the inherent trade-offs between production of food, goods, and services and the maintenance of natural ecosystems. Nutrients and carbon are circulated through water, terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere in biogeochemical cycles that have both local and global impacts. With humans already impacting well over 50% of the Earth’s biosphere, understanding and managing these coupled earth systems is essential for a sustainable future.
  5. Health and the Environment. The National Academy of Sciences lists climate change, emerging infections and pollutant impacts as 3 of the 6 most important environmental challenges of this century. Dynamics of disease, environmental change, and gene-environment interactions have been affecting human, animal, and plant health for decades, but we are only now beginning to address these interactions in ways that can disrupt infectious disease vectors, enable precautionary design of chemicals and materials, and develop medical treatments to minimize negative impacts. Scientists are also identifying an increasing number of beneficial human/ environment interactions, including the microbiomes in our digestive systems and on our skin. Expanding and leveraging this knowledge can enhance health in a myriad of different ways.

Program Guidelines


All Penn State faculty members (tenured, tenure track, and fixed term) who hold an appointment of half-time or more at any Penn State campus are eligible to submit a seed grant proposal as a Principal Investigator (PI). Researchers, students and staff from Penn State, other research institutions, Pennsylvania state agencies, federal agencies, and private industry may be included as collaborators in seed grant proposals, but subcontracts to entities outside of Penn State are not allowed. Please note that while most proposals are expected to include multiple investigators, there can only be one responsible PI for each application. In addition, investigators may only serve as PI on a single proposal.  New investigators will be given preference over those who may have previously received an IEE seed grant. PI’s that were awarded an IEE Seed Grant in 2019 are ineligible to serve as PI for this call, but may participate as a co-PI or member of the project team on a submission.

Funding Availability

To encourage the establishment of new collaborations and enhancement of networks, larger grants will require innovative partnerships of investigators from multiple colleges and/or campus locations. Funds up to $30,000 are available for multi-college (across University Park) and multi-campus (between campuses) collaborative grants; up to $15,000 for two or more faculty with different disciplinary expertise housed within the same college (University Park) or at a single Commonwealth Campus; and up to $5,000 for a single investigator project.  New! If a multi-college or multi-campus proposal budget includes at least one semester of graduate student stipend support then investigators may request one semester of tuition waiver beyond the $30,000 or $15,000 cap.

Funds may be used to support research development and coordination expenses such as:

  • Graduate and undergraduate student support
  • Instrumentation fees and sample analysis to collect preliminary data
  • Equipment, supplies, and participant payments
  • Travel associated with conducting/reporting seed grant research (Penn State participants only)
  • Hosting a research planning meeting for an interdisciplinary team
  • Planning and hosting conferences and symposia
  • Funding for data conversion technology and wages to support date conversion

The following funding restrictions apply:

  • Single college/campus funding, even with faculty from several departments, is capped at $15,000
  • Regular appointment, summer, or supplemental salary support for faculty is disallowed
  • Postdoc salary is disallowed
  • Travel support to attend conferences is disallowed

Submission Instructions

All proposals must be submitted electronically via upload from the link at  no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Each proposal is limited to a 2-page project description and additional pages for an appendix.

Note: There is no preproposal stage this year, so the two-page project description needs to clearly address all the review criteria below.

Proposal format:

  • Size 12 font
  • Left aligned with 1-inch margins
  • PDF document

The two-page project description must include:

  • Title of project
  • PI and co-PI's names including college, department and/or campus
  • Project abstract (understandable by an interdisciplinary audience, see criteria 1 and 5 below)
  • Short description of how this project will leverage seed funding (see criterion 2 below)
  • Nature of collaboration (new/existing; mentorship opportunities, see criterion 3 below)
  • Total funding to be requested, including brief budget justification

The appendix shall include:

  • A list of all collaborators, their colleges and/or departments
  • The name and email of the department financial contact to facilitate the transfer of funds if awarded
  • 1-page or 2-page resumes for the PI and all co-PIs

Review Criteria

Proposal reviews are based upon the following criteria:

  1. Intellectual merit of the proposal, including relevance to strategic priorities and contribution to global leadership in a prioritized theme; creativity and innovation; significance of goals and results; soundness of research plan; and likelihood of successful project completion. Please note that these proposals are reviewed by a cross-section of researchers with different backgrounds; your ability to communicate your ideas to a broader audience is important for success with interdisciplinary project review panels.
  2. A credible and clearly articulated strategy for leveraging this seed grant investment into exceptional scholarship and/or significant external funding. Potential for additional/continued activity beyond the seed grant phase may include plans for continued activity such as applications for external support from federal, state or local government agencies, industry, private foundations; plans for continued research activities involving in-kind support, teaching activities, on-going scholarly work; plans for public engagement and outreach; and expanded implementation by external stakeholders. Providing specific examples, including specifics of external funding opportunities, or contact with program officers has been helpful in establishing the credibility of these strategies to prior seed grant reviewers.
  3. Realistic potential for developing new and productive collaborations between PIs, with special consideration given to mentorship and collaborations between junior and senior faculty. Possibilities for additional activities and projects which draw upon the seed grant partnership should be specified.
  4. Appropriateness of the budget request for supporting the proposed research.
  5. Extra consideration will also be given to projects that have a compelling plan to leverage research results to advance knowledge and generate positive impact.   For more on this criterion, see: .

Proposals will be reviewed, scored against these criteria, and categorized as “Award” or “Do Not Award.” 

Please direct any questions regarding the proposal process to