Molecular Separations

National Science Foundation (NSF)

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Deadline: Rolling

Grant amount: Up to US $300,000

Fields of work: Chemical Engineering Chemistry

Applicant type: Organizations, Faculty, Research Scientist

Funding uses: Research

Location of project: Anywhere in the world

Location of residency: United States



The Molecular Separations program is part of the Chemical Process Systems cluster, which also includes 1) Catalysis; 2) Electrochemical Systems; and 3) Process Systems, Reaction Engineering, and Molecular Thermodynamics.

The Molecular Separations program supports research focused on novel methods and materials for separation processes, such as those central to the chemical, biochemical, bioprocessing, materials, energy, and pharmaceutical industries. A fundamental understanding of the interfacial, transport, and thermodynamic behavior of multiphase chemical systems as well as quantitative descriptions of processing characteristics in the process-oriented industries is critical for efficient resource management and effective environmental protection. The program encourages proposals that address long standing challenges and emerging research areas and technologies, have a high degree of interdisciplinary work coupled with the generation of fundamental knowledge, and the integration of education and research.

Research topics of particular interest include fundamental, molecular-level work on:

  • A molecular-level design of scalable mass separating agents (e.g., adsorbents and membranes) targeted for a specific gas, chemical, or water separation
  • A molecular-level understanding of interfacial thermodynamics, fluid nanoconfinement, and/or transport within nanopores or highly engineered surfaces
  • Engineering science that advances a fundamental and/or a mechanistic understanding of mass transport principles and/or design of separation processes
  • Downstream processing of biologically derived chemicals for increased throughput
  • Integrated design of chemical separations with other chemical conversions for process intensification
  • Innovative separation mechanisms or engineering processes, including but not limited to field (flow, magnetic, electrical) induced separations, that target a significant reduction in energy and/or materials requirements in the process industries

NOTE: Field-based particle separations that advance fundamental transport principles with application to a novel separation problem will be considered, with co-review by this program and Particulate and Multiphase Processes (1415). Proposals concerning the separation of components from blood with simultaneous detection using sensors for biomedical diagnostics should be submitted to the Biosensing program (7909). Proposals that deal with deployment or improved performance of existing materials for water purification should be submitted to the Environmental Engineering program (1440).

Innovative proposals outside of these specific interest areas may be considered.However, prior to submission, it is recommended that the PI contact the Program Director to avoid the possibility of the proposal being returned without review.

The duration of unsolicited awards is generally one to three years. The typical award size for the program is around $100,000 per year. Proposals requesting a substantially higher amount than this, without prior consultation with the Program Director, may be returned without review.


Proposals should address the novelty and/or potentially transformative nature of the proposed work compared to previous work in the field. Also, it is important to address why the proposed work is important in terms of engineering science, as well as to also project the potential impact on society and/or industry of success in the research. The novelty or potentially transformative nature of the research should be included, as a minimum, in the Project Summary of each proposal.

Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program proposals are strongly encouraged. Award duration is five years. The submission deadline for Engineering CAREER proposals is in July every year. Please see the CAREER URL here for more information. 

Proposals for Conferences, Workshops, and Supplements: PIs are strongly encouraged to discuss their requests with the Program Director before submission of the proposal.

Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) and EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) are also considered when appropriate. Please note that proposals of these types must be discussed with the program director before submission. Further details are available in the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) download found here. Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) proposals that integrate fundamental research with translational results and are consistent with the application areas of interest to each program are also encouraged. Please note that GOALI proposals must be submitted during the annual unsolicited proposal window for each program. More information on GOALI can be found here.

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • Except where a program solicitation establishes more restrictive eligibility criteria, individuals and organizations in the following categories may submit proposals:
    1. Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members.
      • IHEs located outside the US fall under paragraph 6. below.
      • Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs
      • If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.
    2. Non-profit, Non-academic Organizations -Independent museums, observatories, research laboratories, professional societies and similar organizations located in the US that are directly associated with educational or research activities.
    3. For-profit Organizations - US commercial organizations, especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education.
      • An unsolicited proposal from a commercial organization may be funded when the project is of special concern from a national point of view, special resources are available for the work, or the proposed project is especially meritorious.
      • NSF is interested in supporting projects that couple industrial research resources and perspectives with those of universities; therefore, it especially welcomes proposals for cooperative projects involving both universities and the private commercial sector.
    4. State and Local Governments - State educational offices or organizations and local school districts may submit proposals intended to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace, and increase the effectiveness of improvements in science, mathematics and engineering education in both K-12 and post-secondary levels.
    5. Unaffiliated Individuals - Unaffiliated individuals in the US and US citizens rarely receive direct funding support from NSF.
      • Recipients of Federal funds must be able to demonstrate their ability to fully comply with the requirements specified in 2 CFR § 200, Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.
      • As such, unaffiliated individuals are strongly encouraged to affiliate with an organization that is able to meet the requirements specified in 2 CFR § 200.
      • Unaffiliated individuals must contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to preparing and submitting a proposal to NSF.
    6. Foreign organizations - NSF rarely provides funding support to foreign organizations.
      • NSF will consider proposals for cooperative projects involving US and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the US portion of the collaborative effort.
      • In cases however, where the proposer considers the foreign organization’s involvement to be essential to the project (e.g., through subawards or consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain why local support is not feasible and why the foreign organization can carry out the activity more effectively.
      • In addition, the proposed activity must demonstrate how one or more of the following conditions have been met:
        • The foreign organization contributes a unique organization, facilities, geographic location and/or access to unique data resources not generally available to US investigators (or which would require significant effort or time to duplicate) or other resources that are essential to the success of the proposed project; and/or
        • The foreign organization to be supported offers significant science and engineering education, training or research opportunities to the US.
    7. Other Federal Agencies - NSF does not normally support research or education activities by scientists, engineers or educators employed by Federal agencies or FFRDCs. Under unusual circumstances, other Federal agencies and FFRDCs may submit proposals directly to NSF.
      • A proposed project is only eligible for support if it meets one or more of the following exceptions, as determined by a cognizant NSF Program Officer:
        • Special Projects. Under exceptional circumstances, research or education projects at other Federal agencies or FFRDCs that can make unique contributions to the needs of researchers elsewhere or to other specific NSF objectives may receive NSF support.
        • National and International Programs. The Foundation may fund research and logistical support activities of other Government agencies or FFRDCs directed at meeting the goals of special national and international research programs for which the Foundation bears special responsibility, such as the US Antarctic Research Program.
        • International Travel Awards. In order to ensure appropriate representation or availability of a particular expertise at an international conference, staff researchers of other Federal agencies may receive NSF international travel awards.
      • Proposers who think their project may meet one of the exceptions listed above must contact a cognizant NSF Program Officer before preparing a proposal for submission.
        • In addition, a scientist, engineer or educator who has a joint appointment with a university and a Federal agency (such as a Veterans Administration Hospital, or with a university and a FFRDC) may submit proposals through the university and may receive support if he/she is a faculty member (or equivalent) of the university, although part of his/her salary may be provided by the Federal agency.
        • Preliminary inquiry must be made to the appropriate program before preparing a proposal for submission.


  • COMPLIANCE: Proposals which are not compliant with the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) will be returned without review.
  • Unsolicited proposals received outside of the Announced Proposal Window dates will be returned without review.

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This page was last reviewed May 18, 2018 and last updated May 18, 2018