SIF187 GCRI-ERS: Grand Challenge Research Investment - Environmental Resilience and Sustainability

Approved: Summer 2022

Project Dates: 1/1/2023 – 12/31/2027

Funding Awarded: $45,000,000

Executive Summary

The Grand Challenges Research Investments are intended to make a substantial difference through large strategic investments—to move the needle and not just fund business as usual. Through UVA’s ambitious Grand Challenge Research Initiatives, UVA researchers will pursue two avenues focused on environmental resilience and sustainability: researching and perfecting clean energy, and helping local communities develop best practices for responding to climate-driven challenges.

Led by the UVA Environmental Resilience Institute, the community-based effort will include faculty from schools across the University in a newly formed Climate Collaborative. The group aspires to connect University researchers with policymakers, local officials and business leaders, as well as everyday citizens.

The Climate Collaborative plans to imbed four to six research teams in specific localities dealing with climate-related challenges. The local communities – and people everywhere – will benefit from research being conducted simultaneously on Grounds.

Initial sites will be located in Virginia and other states, and internationally. The model will be scaled up over time, aiming to one day serve as a global model for partnerships between universities and communities committed to solving environmental problems.

Funds will also support additional physical space near Grounds for interdisciplinary collaborations, and for hosting Environmental Practitioner Fellows from a wide range of areas, including sustainability entrepreneurs, former heads of government agencies, community activists and artists.

Developing clean energy will be spearheaded by a second team of researchers from Engineering and Arts & Sciences, with an eye toward scalable solutions. Solar energy is arguably the leading carbon-neutral source that can supply the global demand for energy, but it must be converted to useable and storable forms of energy through chemical and molecular processes known as catalysis.

The University has faculty members focusing on catalysis in several departments, and the hire of four to six new faculty members will build on this strength and bring crucial additional new expertise. The expanded team will implement important new infrastructure to support state-of-the-art research efforts and enable the translation of fundamental knowledge to projects that have potential scalability.

The University also plans to provide seed funding for clean energy research collaborations and develop an Environmental Entrepreneurship Initiative to help launch nonprofit and for-profit ventures, and strengthen the regional clean energy entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The Grand Challenges Fund is providing $45 million of the total for the environmental initiative, with the partnering schools adding at least $10 million more. As part of the investment, the University will provide startup funding for up to 14 new faculty members in multiple schools and develop an interdisciplinary post-doctoral program, emphasizing mentoring the next generation of environmental leaders while promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in its hires. 

Three SIF awards are associated with this endeavor: