back to all projects

Alcoa Foundation's Conservation and Sustainability Fellowship Program: Enabling Technology for a Sustainable Energy Future through Interdisciplinary Research and Training


The goal of the University of Michigan Alcoa Conservation and Sustainability Fellowship Program (ACSFP) is to develop an innovative interdisciplinary research initiative that addresses the link between technology and the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability.  This Program brings together faculty expertise and leadership in sustainability from the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ross School of Business, the Ford School of Public Policy and the College of Engineering.  The Center for Sustainable Systems and the Erb Environmental Management Institute have over a decade of experience in leading interdisciplinary research and education on sustainability and will coordinate this unique postdoctoral fellowship program.

The sustainability challenges facing society in the 21st Century include global climate change, declining fossil resources, persistent organic pollutants, freshwater scarcity, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, overpopulation and limited access to basic human necessities in developing countries.  Science and technology are central to both the origins of these sustainability challenges and to the prospects for effectively addressing them.  The wise use of technology represents a necessary, but not a sufficient, prerequisite for sustainable human development.  Technology represents a key lever for change, offering the means for radically improving resource productivity; reducing the environmental and social harm of production and consumption activity; reducing human vulnerability and empowering the poor; switching from nonrenewable to renewable energy; decoupling economic growth from environmental impact; enabling developing countries to leapfrog the burdens of the industrial revolution; and decarbonizing, dematerializing and detoxifying economic activity.  For many analysts, technological progress represents the only real hope for meeting the needs of a much larger human population in an equitable manner while simultaneously preserving the planet’s life-support systems and biodiversity.

In recent years the international scientific and technological community (e.g., Board on Sustainable Development of the U.S. National Research Council, U.S. National Science Foundation) has arrived at a consensus that urges a radical reorientation of science and technology supportive of the transition to sustainability with an approach that is more synthetic, dynamic, integrative, action-oriented, and collaborative.  While the challenges associated with this new research orientation are extraordinary, we believe that the University of Michigan – with its long-standing emphases on interdisciplinarity, internationalism, complex systems, social change, industry collaboration and public service – is an ideal place to pursue this new paradigm of scholarship in search of a sustainable human future.

The University of Michigan Sustainability Cabinet proposes to focus ACSFP research on sustainable energy technology.  Energy technology plays a critical role in addressing many sustainability challenges including climate change, declining fossil fuel resources, acidification, smog formation, and energy security for both developed and developing nations.  The ACSFP provides an exciting forum to bring together leading scholars in the field of sustainability to conduct interdisciplinary research on sustainable energy.  The proposed theme for the ACSFP is “enabling technologies for achieving a sustainable energy future.”  Figure 1 highlights sustainability challenges and opportunities for achieving this vision.


Alcoa Foundation
Research Areas
Energy Systems