Call for Letters of Inquiry

Interdisciplinary Social and Natural Science Research Projects on Critical Minerals and Metals in the United States

Submission Deadline: December 18, 2023

Grants of $500,000 - $750,000 for interdisciplinary social and natural science research projects on critical minerals and metals in the U.S., led by early- and mid-career scholars.


The Energy and Environment program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supports research, training, networking, and dissemination efforts to inform the societal transition toward low-carbon energy systems in the United States by investigating economic, environmental, technological, and distributional issues. The program is currently soliciting Letters of Inquiry for interdisciplinary, collaborative, social and natural science research projects led by early- and mid-career scholars to examine under-explored questions related to issues associated with critical minerals and metals for the low-carbon energy transition in the United States. Three to four full proposals are expected to be invited from submissions received in response to this Call. Grant amounts are expected to be between $500,000 and $750,000 over a 2-3 year period.


More empirical research is needed to understand the full extent of the role that critical minerals and metals will play in the low-carbon energy transition in the United States. Many of the key low-carbon and negative emission technologies that will be adopted in clean energy transitions depend on these resources, helping lead to a resurgence of interest in building advanced, resilient, domestic supply chains for critical minerals and metals in the United States. Substantial federal incentives have also been deployed to support these goals and spur equitable development and innovation. Many analyses conducted to date have focused primarily on geopolitical considerations, inventorying resources, demand modeling, or developing new mining and refining techniques. There remains a distinct lack of interdisciplinary social science scholarship on this topic, particularly scholarship that links social science research with advances in basic science and engineering. Furthermore, there is a pressing need to fill these research gaps to inform the design of equitable and just critical mineral and metal supply chains in the United States over the coming years.

The goal of this Call is to be broadly relevant to a wide range of social science scholars, disciplines, and approaches, particularly those projects that involve researchers from engineering and natural science disciplines, as well as those that draw on a variety of conceptual frameworks and methodologies, ensuring that novel research is generated, students are trained, networks are strengthened, and information is disseminated to inform decision-making. The intention is to advance interdisciplinary, collaborative scholarship focusing on underexplored empirical research questions related to critical minerals and metals in the United States. Attention by the research community is also needed to address questions relevant to historically under-represented or marginalized regions and populations. In particular, there is a need for research investigating opportunities to ensure the benefits from mineral and metal supply chains reach Native and Indigenous communities, communities of color, economically vulnerable communities, or other vulnerable populations that have been historically overlooked or excluded from decision-making processes.

Sample Research Questions

Example research questions for examination include but are not limited to:

  • What are the environmental, economic, and equity impacts of new mining and refining techniques or innovations, and what are the barriers and opportunities for their adoption? How might recent federal legislation and incentives affect the development of relevant supply chains?
  • What can be learned from applying life-cycle assessment perspectives to better understand the full range of impacts, including waste disposal, recycling, and end-of-life management options, of critical minerals and metals?
  • What are underexplored sectors of the economy that rely on critical minerals and metals, and how might these sectors be impacted by novel scientific or technological developments? What market failures exist and what policies might help overcome them?
  • How has the political economy of the mining industry changed given renewed attention to clean energy transitions? How might these changes affect the location, siting, or expansion of critical mineral and metal mining operations, and what is the potential impact on local communities?
  • What are the transportation dynamics inherent to critical minerals and metals, and what are the most equitable approaches for different minerals and metals over various distances? How might innovative approaches help to ensure more efficient and equitable transport?
  • What lessons can be learned from efforts where new critical mineral and metal mining operations have been equitably implemented in partnership with historically under-represented or marginalized communities? What can be learned from relevant examples or experiences drawn from other contexts or countries?

Expected Project Structure

Competitive projects are expected to demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Projects are expected to be highly interdisciplinary across fields, involving researchers deploying a range of research methodologies. Participating faculty can be drawn from multiple social science, engineering, or natural science disciplines, either within or across universities.
  • Relevant disciplines and fields could include but are not limited to: political science, public policy, economics, anthropology, geology, engineering, chemistry, and biology, among others.
  • Projects are expected to contain a student training component (graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, or undergraduates) to enhance attention to questions of critical minerals and metals, with diversity among trainees of special interest.
  • Projects are expected to undertake original empirical data collection and analysis, or combine and analyze existing datasets in novel, innovative ways.
  • Projects are expected to link research to practice by engaging a wide range of stakeholders in either the conduct of research or in dissemination efforts used to inform decision-making. This includes potential collaboration with government, industry, non-governmental organizations, or other stakeholder organizations.
  • Projects with the ability to secure additional financial support, or in-kind contributions, from other funding sources—including foundations, universities, private sector, or government funders are especially welcome.

Projects Out of Scope

Projects with the following characteristics are out of scope and not eligible for consideration:

  • Projects involving advocacy or lobbying activities.
  • Projects with a public health or biomedical component.
  • Projects that solely involve energy system modeling activities.
  • Projects with solely an international focus that do not relate to the United States.

Expected Team Structure and Eligibility

  • Researchers who have not previously received funding from the Energy and Environment program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are particularly encouraged to submit for consideration.
  • Lead principal investigator must be Assistant or Associate Professors, or in equivalent positions, based at United States universities or colleges.
  • Submissions from diverse teams led by Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o researchers and/or women are strongly encouraged. Submissions from researchers based at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are strongly encouraged, either as lead primary investigators or in team member roles.
  • Senior researchers and non-U.S.-based researchers may participate in proposed projects and can receive funding as research team members, advisors, or collaborators.
  • Researchers may participate in a maximum of two proposed projects.

Submission Deadline and Process

Submissions are due on Monday December 18, 2023, by 5:00pm Eastern. Submission materials should be uploaded directly to the application portal at Any questions related to the application portal can be sent to [email protected].


Submission Components

Complete submission packets should include the following 6 components in the following order:

(1)  A 1-page Sloan Foundation Proposal Cover Sheet, summarizing key project details. Projects should have a proposed start date of July 1, 2024 or later. The Proposal Cover Sheet document is available at: 

(2)  A Letter of Inquiry 3-4 pages in length (excluding budget table and other supplemental material), in 11-point font. Submissions should address the following questions, with each question serving as a section heading:

  1. What is the core research question(s) and why is it important?
  2. What are the current knowledge gaps that this research will address?
  3. What is the proposed research methodology and workplan?
  4. Who are the key members of the research team and how does the team account for diversity, equity, and inclusion in its composition?
  5. What will be the outputs from the research project and how will they be disseminated among various stakeholders?
  6. What other sources of support can the project leverage?

(3)  A Budget Table for the proposed project. Total funding requests are allowed between $500,000 and $750,000 over a 2-3 year period, with sub-awards to collaborating institutions provided as needed. A sample Budget Table is available at: Allowable expenses include:

  1. For faculty: up to one-month summer salary per investigator per year, plus benefits, capped at $35,000 per investigator per year, based on project time commitment.
  2. For graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, or undergraduate students: salary/stipend, plus benefits, based on project time commitment.
  3. Tuition reimbursement: Requests for graduate student tuition reimbursement are allowed up to a maximum of $16,000 per student per academic year, provided justification is provided.
  4. For project-related administrative and research staff: salary, plus benefits.
  5. Research implementation expenses: data acquisition, conducting experiments, computation, hardware, advisory committee honoraria, and other research expenses.
  6. Dissemination and workshop expenses: travel, meals, lodging, conference fees, room rentals, speaker stipends, audio-visual equipment, and other dissemination expenses.
  7. Indirect overhead expenses, capped at 20% of direct costs (overhead expenses are not allowed on tuition reimbursement).

(4)  References/Bibliography List of up to 2 pages

(5)  Brief CVs of key project leads and personnel (no more than 2 pages per person)

(6)  If applicable, Letters of Support from research partners, community stakeholders, data providers, or other collaborators (if available)


Submission Review Process

Given the large number of submissions expected, we will be unable to respond to questions for additional information related to this Call for Letters of Inquiry. A diverse review committee comprised of scholars and practitioners with expertise in critical minerals and metals will be assembled to assess submitted Letters of Inquiry. A small number of selected submissions will then be invited to prepare full proposals for consideration. Invited full proposals will be further reviewed by subject matter experts, and proposers will then be asked to prepare a response to reviews. Depending on the submissions received, it is expected that 3-4 grants may be awarded over the next year, with final award decisions expected by June 2024.

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