Contact Us  |  Search:  
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Science and Technology for Sustainability Program
Science and Technology for Sustainability Program
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About Us STS Roundtable Sustainability Across The Academies
Quick Links


Download a description of our program

Upcoming Events

View a list of Sustainability-related meetings at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Recent Events

Sustainability at the Academies
July 20, 2016, Washington, DC

Sustainability at the Academies

June 8, 2016, Washington, DC

Sustainable Energy large


View a list of Sustainability-related meetings at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


View a list of Sustainability-related ongoing activities at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Sustainable Energy

"Sustaining the supply of energy and materials needed to support current levels of consumption, making them available where most needed, and addressing the environmental problems resulting from their extraction, consumption and disposal may be the most significant challenges to a sustainability transition...."
Our Common Journey


Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants: Phase 2 (2016)
The U.S. Congress asked the Academies to conduct a technical study on lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident for improving safety and security of commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. This study was carried out in two phases: Phase 1, issued in 2014, focused on the causes of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and safety-related lessons learned for improving nuclear plant systems, operations, and regulations exclusive of spent fuel storage. This Phase 2 report focuses on three issues: (1) lessons learned from the accident for nuclear plant security, (2) lessons learned for spent fuel storage, and (3) reevaluation of conclusions from previous Academies studies on spent fuel storage.

Analytic Research Foundations for the Next-Generation Electric Grid  (2016)
Electricity is the lifeblood of modern society, and for the vast majority of people that electricity is obtained from large, interconnected power grids. However, the grid that was developed in the 20th century, and the incremental improvements made since then, including its underlying analytic foundations, is no longer adequate to completely meet the needs of the 21st century. The next-generation electric grid must be more flexible and resilient. This report provides guidance on the longer-term critical areas for research in mathematical and computational sciences that is needed for the next-generation grid. It offers recommendations that are designed to help direct future research as the grid evolves and to give the nation’s research and development infrastructure the tools it needs to effectively develop, test, and use this research.

Mathematical Sciences Research Challenges for the Next-Generation Electric Grid: Summary of a Workshop (2015)
If the United States is to sustain its economic prosperity, quality of life, and global competitiveness, it must continue to have an abundance of secure, reliable, and affordable energy resources. There have been many improvements in the technology and capability of the electric grid over the past several decades. Many of these advances to the grid depend on complex mathematical algorithms and techniques, and as the complexity of the grid has increased, the analytical demands have also increased. The workshop summarized in this report was developed as part of an ongoing study of the Committee on Analytical Research Foundations for the Next-Generation Electric Grid and held on February 11-12, 2015. 

Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus: Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability (2015)
In 2013-2014, the Academies' Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability, in collaboration with the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (BEES) and the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB), contributed to the emerging dialogue on the energy-water nexus by holding four related meetings in June 2013December 2013May 2014 and December 2014This volume compiles the Meetings in Brief for the four events, highlighting the main topics discussed at each meeting. 

Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus: Need for Improved Data and Decision Support Tools (2015)
As the fourth and final session of the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability’s 2013-2014 initiative to examine the energy-water nexus, the December 2014 meeting featured panel discussions on improved data for water use, decision support tools, and frameworks for local and regional decision making. The panel was convened in collaboration with the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (BEES) and the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB). This Meeting in Brief synthesizes the discussions held during the event.

Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric VehiclesOvercoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (2015)
The plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) holds much promise today—from reducing dependency on imported petroleum to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to improving urban air quality. At the request of Congress, this report identifies barriers to the introduction of electric vehicles and recommends ways to mitigate these barriers. The report examines the characteristics and capabilities of electric vehicle technologies, such as cost, performance, range, safety, and durability, and assesses how these factors might create barriers to widespread deployment.

The Science of Responding to a Nuclear Reactor Accident: Summary of a Symposium (2014)
This report summarizes the presentations and discussions of the May 2014 Gilbert W. Beebe Symposium, co-hosted by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Cancer Institute. The report addresses off-site emergency response and long-term management of the accident consequences; estimating radiation exposures of affected populations; health effects and population monitoring; other radiological consequences; and communication among plant officials, government officials, and the public and the role of the media.

Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus through Technological Innovation (2014)
In May 2014, the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability convened a panel to examine technological innovation to address the energy-water nexus. The panel examined research needs for optimizing current technologies, existing barriers, emerging technology innovations, and approaches for advancing the integrative field of the energy-water nexus to best address key challenges. The panel was convened in collaboration with the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (BEES) and the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB). This meeting summary synthesizes the discussions held during the event.

Energy Water Power Plants Cover
Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus: Power Plants and Partnerships (2014)
The National Academies' Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability met on December 5, 2013, to examine issues related to the energy-water nexus. Following a June 2013 Roundtable panel that provided a broad overview of the energy-water nexus, the December event delved deeper, focusing on energy-water nexus issues associated with power plants. The meeting was convened in collaboration with the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (BEES) and the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB). This summary synthesizes the discussions held during the event.

Energy Water Waste CoverEnergy and Water Considerations for the Sustainable Reuse and Recycling of Materials (2014)
In September 2013, the STS Program convened a meeting of research leaders and technical experts in private industry as well as representatives from government and academia to examine the energy-water considerations of material reuse and recycling. The meeting examined the data and research needs for assessing the energy-water linkages with the reuse and recycling of waste streams and materials; the technologies and approaches needed to further recycling and reuse strategies; and how the public and private sectors can leverage the efforts of key stakeholders to further technological development, innovation, data collection, and research. This meeting summary synthesizes the discussions held during the event.

Risks and Risk Governance in Shale Gas Development: Summary of Two Workshops (2014)
Natural gas in deep shale formations, which can be developed by hydraulic fracturing and associated technologies (often collectively referred to as "fracking") is dramatically increasing production of natural gas in the United States, where significant gas deposits exist in formations that underlie many states. This report is the summary of two workshops convened in May and August 2013 to consider and assess claims about the levels and types of risk posed by shale gas development and about the adequacy of existing governance procedures. Central themes included risk governance in the context of (a) risks that emerge as shale gas development expands, and (b) incomplete or declining regulatory capacity in an era of budgetary stringency.

Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants (2014)
A new congressionally mandated report from the National Academy of Sciences examines the causes of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant initiated by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and identifies lessons learned for improving nuclear plant safety and offsite emergency responses to nuclear plant accidents in the United States. The overarching lesson learned is that nuclear plant licensees and their regulators must actively seek out and act on new information about hazards that have the potential to affect the safety of nuclear plants.

The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team SummariesThe Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries (2014)
The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) Conference in 2013 focused on the Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies to generate new ideas about how to move nuclear technology forward while making the world safer and more secure. Beyond the public's apprehension concerning the safety of nuclear power, which calls out for better communications strategies, several challenges lie ahead for the nuclear enterprise in the United States. This report summarizes the 14 Interdisciplinary Research (IDR) teams' collaborations on creative solutions to challenges designed to propel the policy, engineering, and social aspects of the nuclear enterprise forward.

Reducing the Fuel Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, Phase Two: First ReportReducing the Fuel Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, Phase Two: First Report (2014)
Medium- and heavy-duty trucks, motor coaches, and transit buses - collectively, "medium- and heavy-duty vehicles", or MHDVs - are used in every sector of the economy. The fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of MHDVs have become a focus of legislative and regulatory action in the past few years. The report reviews fuel consumption regulations and considers the technological, market and regulatory factors that may be of relevance to a revised and updated regulatory regime taking effect for model years 2019-2022.

Sustainable Energy and Transportation Strategies, Research, and Data (2014)
The Transportation Research Board's Conference Proceedings on the Web 14: Sustainable Energy and Transportation Strategies, Research, and Data includes summaries of plenary session presentations that were made during a November 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. The conference explored potential research needed to further advance the development of alternatives to petroleum-based transportation and to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Development of Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources in the Appalachian Basin: Workshop SummaryDevelopment of Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources in the Appalachian Basin: Workshop Summary (2014)
Shale gas is the fastest growing source of U.S. natural gas. Most of the oil and gas produced in the United States comes from conventional reservoirs in which hydrocarbons have accumulated in discrete structural or stratigraphic traps below relatively impermeable rock and above a well-defined hydrocarbon-water interface. However, a growing fraction comes from unconventional reservoirs - geographically extensive accumulations of hydrocarbons held in low-permeability rock with diffuse boundaries and no obvious traps or hydrocarbon-water contacts. This report examines the potential effects on surface water and groundwater quality and quantity; potential effects on landscapes, including soil and living organisms, and other environmental systems; and technical and engineering processes for exploration and production.

The Resilience of the Electric Power Delivery System in Response to Terrorism and Natural Disasters: Summary of a WorkshopThe Resilience of the Electric Power Delivery System in Response to Terrorism and Natural Disasters: Summary of a Workshop (2013)
This report summarizes a workshop convened in February 2013 as a follow-up to the release of the National Research Council report, Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System. The workshop focused on five key areas: physical vulnerabilities of the grid; cybersecurity; mitigation and response to outages; community resilience and the provision of critical services; and future technologies and policies that could enhance the resilience of the electric power delivery system.

Best Available and Safest Technologies for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations: Options for ImplementationBest Available and Safest Technologies for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations (2013)
This report explores a range of options for improving the implementation of the U.S. Department of the Interior's congressional mandate to require the use of best available and safety technologies in offshore oil and gas operations. In the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, Congress directs the Secretary of the Interior to regulate oil and gas operations in federal waters. This report, which was requested by Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), also reviews options and issues that BSEE is already considering to improve implementation of the best available and safest technologies requirement.

Roundtable EW Summary Cover

Sustainable Energy and Materials: Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus (2013)
As the first event of a year-long initiative, a session was held at the June 2013 Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability meeting in collaboration with the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (BEES) and the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB). The session featured panel discussions focused on addressing issues related to the energy-water nexus, a key sustainability issue, as adequate water and energy are critical to the continued economic security of the United States. The event examined key questions, including data and partnerships needs for addressing the energy-water nexus.

Opportunities and Obstacles in Large-Scale Biomass Utilization: The Role of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Communities: A Workshop Summary (2013)
Based on a one-day public workshop held in Washington, DC, this workshop summary explores the current state of biomass utilization for bulk-production of sustainable fuels and chemicals. The discussion focused on the chemistry and chemical engineering opportunities to meet the aforementioned objectives. Both formal presentations and breakout working groups were components of the workshop in an effort to stimulate engaging discussion among participants from widely varying fields.

Book CoverReview of the Research Program of the U.S. DRIVE Partnership: Fourth Report (2013)
This report follows on three previous NRC reviews of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, which was the predecessor of the U.S. DRIVE Partnership (NRC, 2005, 2008a, 2010). The U.S. DRIVE (Driving Research and Innovation for Vehicle Efficiency and Energy Sustainability) vision, according to the charter of the Partnership, is this: American consumers have a broad range of affordable personal transportation choices that reduce petroleum consumption and significantly reduce harmful emissions from the transportation sector. Its mission is as follows: accelerate the development of pre-competitive and innovative technologies to enable a full range of efficient and clean advanced light-duty vehicles (LDVs), as well as related energy infrastructure. The Partnership focuses on precompetitive research and development (R&D) that can help to accelerate the emergence of advanced technologies to be commercialization-feasible.

Book CoverAn Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Energy's Marine and Hydrokinetic Resource Assessments (2013) 
Increasing renewable energy development, both within the United States and abroad, has rekindled interest in the potential for marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) resources to contribute to electricity generation. These resources derive from ocean tides, waves, and currents; temperature gradients in the ocean; and free-flowing rivers and streams. One measure of the interest in the possible use of these resources for electricity generation is the increasing number of permits that have been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). However, most of these permits are for developments along the Mississippi River, and the actual benefit realized from all MHK resources is extremely small.This report focuses on the findings and conclusions regarding a conceptual framework for developing the resource assessments, the aggregation of results into a single number, and the consistency across and coordination between the individual resource assessments.

Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels (2013)
For a century, almost all light-duty vehicles (LDVs) have been powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) operating on petroleum fuels. Energy security concerns over petroleum imports and the effect of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions on global climate are driving interest in alternatives. This report assesses the potential for reducing petroleum consumption and GHG emissions by 80% across the U.S. LDV fleet by 2050, relative to 2005. It examines the current capability and estimated future performance and costs for each vehicle type and non-petroleum-based fuel technology as options that could significantly contribute to these goals. By analyzing scenarios that combine various fuel and vehicle pathways, the report also identifies barriers to implementation of these technologies and suggests policies to achieve the desired reductions. Several scenarios are promising, but strong, effective, and sustained but adaptive policies such as research and development (R&D), subsidies, energy taxes, or regulations will be necessary to overcome barriers such as cost and consumer choice.

Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels (2012)
Biofuels made from algae are gaining attention as a domestic source of renewable fuel. However, with current technologies, scaling up production of algal biofuels to meet even 5 percent of U.S. transportation fuel needs could create unsustainable demands for energy, water, and nutrient resources. Continued research and development could yield innovations to address these challenges, but determining if algal biofuel is a viable fuel alternative will involve comparing the environmental, economic and social impacts of algal biofuel production and use to those associated with petroleum-based fuels and other fuel sources. 


Sustainable Energy and Materials: Assessing the Landscape (2012)
As the largest global consumer of energy and of many materials used in traditional and advanced technologies, there is an increased recognition among US federal agencies and the corporate sector of the need to identify and develop sustainable sources of energy and materials. This is evidenced by the increase in funding for research and development in this area in both sectors. The June meeting of the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability included a session that provided an overview of the landscape of efforts underway on sustainable energy and materials, such as identifying any key policy, research, and technological gaps. Presentations during the session addressed the future of nuclear and wind energy; the evolution of energy systems; and material constraints of energy technologies. 


Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies (2012)
In the past several years, some energy technologies that inject or extract fluid from the Earth, such as oil and gas development and geothermal energy development, have been found or suspected to cause seismic events, drawing heightened public attention. Although only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public, understanding the potential for inducing felt seismic events and for limiting their occurrence and impacts is desirable for state and federal agencies, industry, and the public at large. This report identifies gaps in knowledge and research needed to advance the understanding of induced seismicity; identify gaps in induced seismic hazard assessment methodologies and the research to close those gaps; and assess options for steps toward best practices with regard to energy development and induced seismicity potential. 

Book Cover

Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy (2011)
In the United States, we have come to depend upon plentiful and inexpensive energy to support our economy and lifestyles. In recent years, many questions have been raised regarding the sustainability of our current pattern of high consumption of nonrenewable energy and its environmental consequences. This report evaluates the economic and environmental consequences of increasing biofuels production as a result of Renewable Fuels Standard, as amended by EISA (RFS2). The report describes biofuels produced in 2010 and those projected to be produced and consumed by 2022, reviews model projections and other estimates of the relative impact on the prices of land, and discusses the potential environmental harm and benefits of biofuels production and the barriers to achieving the RFS2 consumption mandate.


TRB Special Report 305: Structural Integrity of Offshore Wind Turbines: Oversight of Design, Fabrication, and Installation explores the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) approach to overseeing the development and safe operation of wind turbines on the outer continental shelf, with a focus on structural safety. The committee that developed the report recommended that in order to facilitate the orderly development of offshore wind energy and support the stable economic development of this nascent industry, the United States needs a set of clear requirements that can accommodate future design development.

Assessment of Fuel Economy Technologies for Light Duty Vehicles (2011)
Various combinations of commercially available technologies could greatly reduce fuel consumption in passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles, minivans, and other light-duty vehicles without compromising vehicle performance or safety. This book estimates the potential fuel savings and costs to consumers of available technology combinations for three types of engines: spark-ignition gasoline, compression-ignition diesel, and hybrid. The book focuses on fuel consumption--the amount of fuel consumed in a given driving distance--because energy savings are directly related to the amount of fuel used. In contrast, fuel economy measures how far a vehicle will travel with a gallon of fuel. Because fuel consumption data indicate money saved on fuel purchases and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, the book finds that vehicle stickers should provide consumers with fuel consumption data in addition to fuel economy information.

Turning Science On: Improving Access to Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa (2010)
This new report prepared for the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASADI)'s sixth annual conference, held in November 2010 in Somerset West, South Africa, calls for energy access to be added to the list of U.N. Millennium Development Goals. The report recommends steps the private and public sector can take to expand delivery of electricity, including turning to science for solutions. It also urges the promotion of improved stoves that limit indoor air pollution. 


The Power of Renewables: Opportunities and Challenges for China and the United States (2010)
The United States and China are the world's top two energy consumers and, as of 2010, the two largest economies. Consequently, they have a decisive role to play in the world's clean energy future. Both countries are also motivated by related goals, namely diversified energy portfolios, job creation, energy security, and pollution reduction, making renewable energy development an important strategy with wide-ranging implications. The U.S. National Academies, in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), reviewed renewable energy development and deployment in the two countries, to highlight prospects for collaboration across the research to deployment chain and to suggest strategies which would promote more rapid and economical attainment of renewable energy goals.

Book CoverRealizing the Energy Potential of Methane Hydrate for the United States (2010)
Natural gas, composed mostly of methane, is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels, emitting 25-50% less carbon dioxide than either oil or coal for each unit of energy produced. In recent years, natural gas supplied approximately 20-25% of all energy consumed in the United States. Methane hydrate is a potentially enormous and as yet untapped source of methane. The Department of Energy’s Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program has been tasked since 2000 to implement and coordinate a national methane hydrate research effort to stimulate the development of knowledge and technology necessary for commercial production of methane from methane hydrate in a safe and environmentally responsible way. This report evaluates the program’s research projects and management processes since its congressional re-authorization in 2005, and presents recommendations for its future research and development initiatives.

Real Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States (2010)
America’s economy and lifestyles have been shaped by the low prices and availability of energy. In the last decade, however, the prices of oil, natural gas, and coal have increased dramatically, leaving consumers and the industrial and service sectors looking for ways to reduce energy use. To achieve greater energy efficiency, we need technology, more informed consumers and producers, and investments in more energy-efficient industrial processes, businesses, residences, and transportation. As part of the America’s Energy Future project, this book examines the potential for reducing energy demand through improving efficiency by using existing technologies, technologies developed but not yet utilized widely, and prospective technologies. 

Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles (2010)
This report evaluates various technologies and methods that could improve the fuel economy of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, such as tractor-trailers, transit buses, and work trucks. The book also recommends approaches that federal agencies could use to regulate these vehicles' fuel consumption. Currently there are no fuel consumption standards for such vehicles, which account for about 26 percent of the transportation fuel used in the U.S.

Older Publications