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Actionable Research

Our  research requires interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing the brightest of the bright together to solve the world’s current and future problems. We call it “actionable research” — that is, scientific progress toward real-world solutions that can have an immediate and/or lasting impact on the world we live in.

The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is funding and shepherding research in five distinct themes:


2014 Research Seed Funding

In early 2014, iSEE made its first call for proposals. That June awarded two projects more than $400,000 each, and a third project received $140,000. 

Research will take place in the PI’s home department, and indirect costs generated from subsequent proposals derived from the seed grant are expected to track back to the PI’s home department as stipulated by the new ICR model.

2015 Research Seed Funding

In July 2015, the Institute awarded more than $1.2 million for four projects, bringing its total number of seed-funded projects to seven:

New Research Seed Funding Program: 2018-20

In 2018-19 and 2019-20, iSEE offered new seed funding, using smaller grants for projects that specifically target major funding opportunities at external agencies.

This interdisciplinary seed funding initiative is for cross-campus teams of faculty looking to develop exploratory research ideas. These may involve multiple disciplines and departments in any of the five thematic areas of interest to iSEE (see above); collect preliminary data or other information to develop a research project; and prepare and submit research proposals for external funding.

Read a Spring 2020 news release on the latest round of seed funding >>>

Additionally, the Campus as a Living Lab program is designed to link campus sustainability targets to national and global sustainability, energy, and environment challenges. When a specific call for proposals from a national agency is posted, iSEE will provide quick seed money or other support for faculty-led teams that will engage with sustainability issues on campus or in neighborhood communities in their proposal development. Specifically, iSEE wants to leverage this seed money to attract external funds that are relevant to objectives from the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP).

Read a Spring 2019 news release about nine seed-funded projects >>>

iSEE-Affiliated Centers

Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding this $115 million Bioenergy Research Center (BRC), a collaboration between Illinois’ Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), and 17 partner institutions.

Evan H. DeLucia, the G. William Arends Professor of Plant Biology and Baum Family Director of iSEE, is the Director for the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI).

Read a short progress report from Summer 2020 >>>

The report from Summer 2019 >>>

The report from Summer 2018 >>>

More about CABBI …

Over five years (FY 2018-22), CABBI will develop fuels and products by integrating three highly interconnected DOE priority areas:

  • GROWING THE RIGHT CROPS (Feedstock Production) — Scientists will integrate recent advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and computational biology to increase the value of biomass crops. Feedstock researchers will use the “plants as factories” paradigm, in which biofuels, bioproducts, and foundation molecules for conversion are synthesized directly in plant stems.
  • TURNING PLANTS INTO FUEL (Conversion) — Experts will further develop a versatile, automated “biofoundry” for rapidly engineering microbial strains that can efficiently produce diverse, high-value molecules such as biodiesel, organic acids, jet fuels, lubricants, and alcohols. Using a design-build-test-learn framework, this research will overcome challenges associated with driving biological systems to produce non-natural compounds.
  • DETERMINING THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC BOTTOM LINE (Sustainability) — Researchers will provide an overarching framework for viewing outcomes from the Feedstocks and Conversion themes through an environmental and economic lens. Experts will design a closed-loop, integrated research program for CABBI.

Read the full news release >>>

The CABBI website >>>

A radio interview on CABBI’s mission and vision on WILL-AM’s The 21st program with DeLucia >>>

Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation

In 2016, iSEE secured $972,441 for Plant Biology Professor Evan H. DeLucia (PI) and Plant Biology and Crop Sciences Associate Professor Carl Bernacchi (co-PI) to study enhanced weathering (EW) as part of this Centre.

View a short progress report from Summer 2020 >>>

The report from Summer 2019 >>>

The report from Summer 2018 >>>

DeLucia, Bernacchi, Crop Sciences and Plant Biology Professor Stephen P. Long, iSEE Postdoctoral Research Associate Ilsa Kantola, Department of Plant Biology Technician Michael Masters, and  undergraduate field technicians — Haley Ware and Meggie Gaddy (both Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Class of 2020), and Josephine Duffy (NRES Class of 2022) — comprise the Illinois team. For five years, team members will work on quantifying rates of EW and carbon balance of food crop/bioenergy agroecosystems; testing hypotheses about interactions between EW, crop performance, mycorrhizal growth, and soil properties; and investigating the role of rising CO2 fertilization on EW, the root microbiome, and plant performance. This project includes international collaborators in the UK, Australia, and Malaysia.

View a research profile of Kantola >>>

View a research profile of Masters >>>

Illinois is one of 10 partners in the Centre. Others include the University of Sheffield (lead), the University of Southampton, the University of Bristol, the University of California, the University of Cambridge, the Open University in UK, Cardiff University, the University of Leeds, and the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. The work from this centre is funded by a £10m grant from the Leverhulme Trust, which was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925, the Leverhulme Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education; today, it distributes approximately £80m a year.

Read more about the centre on its website >>>

Read November 2018 BBC coverage of the LC3M project >>>


Published papers from the Illinois LC3M team:

Illinois Research Scholars


The Institute is committed to showcasing the numerous research strengths that can be found on the Illinois campus that relate to sustainability, energy, and the environment.

Thus far, iSEE has coalesced the Water Scholars, the Energy Scholars, and the Global Climate Change Scholars on campus to showcase the breadth and depth of expertise on campus — and to make it easier for researchers and funding organizations to bring together major research teams and centers.

Other Opportunities: iSEE is Here to Help!

Beyond its own seed funding, iSEE intends to be a leader in interdisciplinary research — and as a funding facilitator — for the Illinois campus by seeking collaborators and funding for projects that address sustainability, energy, or environmental issues.

Get Funded! Campus as Living Lab for Sustainability Research

The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) has announced that it will provide seed funding for Illinois faculty members to assist in preparing a proposal for external funding that will include using campus sustainability features and projects in their research related to sustainability.

Specifically, iSEE wants to leverage this seed money to attract external funds that are relevant to objectives from the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP). More than 700 iCAP projects — categorized into energy, water, transportation, building and space, procurement and waste reduction, education, extension, and general research — are online for public assessment. These projects, many based on unique facilities/programs on campus, have great value for developing research and education projects targeting external resources; and at the same time, the realization of many campus sustainability objectives will need research support.

Read more >>>

Building Research Teams

In 2020, iSEE helped University of Illinois researchers from multiple departments leverage a $1.2 million subaward from the University of Maryland on a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded research project to model water, land, and nutrient use for more sustainable crop production.

View the DAWN Project webpage >>>

Read the news release >>>


In Spring 2020, iSEE helped a U of I team earn a $3.3M U.S. Department of Energy grant to develop a precise system for measuring greenhouse gas emissions from commercial bioenergy crops. The team will establish the Midwest Bioenergy Crop Landscape Laboratory (MBC-Lab) to monitor emission on three 85-acre plots.

View the Smart Farms project webpage >>>

Read the news release >>>


In Spring 2015, the Institute helped put together an interdisciplinary team with more than $220,000 in federal funding to examine and model the effects of natural and manmade disasters. The team received another year of funding in 2016 as well.

Read more on this now-sunset project’s webpage >>>

Read the news release >>>

Levenick iSEE Fellows Program

Established in 2015 by a generous gift from Stuart L. and Nancy J. Levenick of Peoria, the Levenick iSEE Fellows Program accomplishes iSEE’s goal of actionable research — work that leads to lasting, real-world solutions to the world’s current and future sustainability-, energy- and environment-related issues — through short-term projects led by Illinois faculty Fellows and student Scholars.

Our Fellows will lead the way in making the Urbana-Champaign campus a model of sustainability, and through their research, learning, and outreach, they will carry this work forward as a significant message to the world.

Meet our Fellows >>>