Many current Evolutionary Algorithms (EAs) suffer from a tendency to converge prematurely or stagnate without progress for complex problems. This may be due to the loss of or failure to discover certain valuable genetic material or the loss of the capability to discover new genetic material before convergence has limited the algorithm's ability to search widely. In this paper, the Hierarchical Fair Competition (HFC) model, including several variants, is proposed as a generic framework for sustainable evolutionary search by transforming the convergent nature of the current EA framework into a non-convergent search process. That is, the structure of HFC does not allow the convergence of the population to the vicinity of any set of optimal or locally optimal solutions. The sustainable search capability of HFC is achieved by ensuring a continuous supply and the incorporation of genetic material in a hierarchical manner, and by culturing and maintaining, but continually renewing, populations of individuals of intermediate fitness levels. HFC employs an assembly-line structure in which subpopulations are hierarchically organized into different fitness levels, reducing the selection pressure within each subpopulation while maintaining the global selection pressure to help ensure the exploitation of the good genetic material found. Three EAs based on the HFC principle are tested - two on the even-10-parity genetic programming benchmark problem and a real-world analog circuit synthesis problem, and another on the HIFF genetic algorithm (GA) benchmark problem. The significant gain in robustness, scalability and efficiency by HFC, with little additional computing effort, and its tolerance of small population sizes, demonstrates its effectiveness on these problems and shows promise of its potential for improving other existing EAs for difficult problems. A paradigm shift from that of most EAs is proposed: rather than trying to escape from local optima or delay convergence at a local optimum, HFC allows the emergence of new optima continually in a bottom-up manner, maintaining low local selection pressure at all fitness levels, while fostering exploitation of high-fitness individuals through promotion to higher levels.

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