By Bob Perciasepe
How would you change the world with $90,000? That’s what we asked students from colleges and universities across the country as part of an annual competition to come up with innovative solutions to some of today’s toughest public health and environmental challenges. And the responses we received were remarkable.
EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award competition was held this past spring at the 9th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo. Three hundred student innovators from 45 teams convened on the National Mall in Washington, DC to showcase sustainable projects to protect people’s health and the environment, encourage economic growth, and use natural resources more efficiently.
Each award winning team will receive a grant of up to $90,000 to further develop their design and potentially bring it to the marketplace. About a quarter of P3 award winners have started new companies or nonprofit organizations, and many have used their P3 grant funds to attract investment capital, additional grants and competitive awards.
A panel of expert judges convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science helped select the winners following two days of judging. It is my honor to announce this year’s winners:
- Loyola University of Chicago for developing a greener way, through a wetland and a distillation process, to treat and reuse byproducts of biodiesel.
- University of Massachusetts, Lowell for creating nontoxic, biodegradable surfactants from fruit peels and algae, and seeing how they are effective.
- Radford University for designing a naturally-occurring coating that would allow sand to absorb water pollutants, such as arsenic and cadmium.
- San Jose State University for using saw dust instead of plastic to create inexpensive building materials, customized for local climates, with 3D printer technology.
- Georgia Southern University for further innovating the Low Temperature Combustion diesel engine, to operate on locally sourced n-buthanol and cottonseed oil; thus designing a diesel engine that could create even lower NOx and soot emissions.
- Cornell University for designing a simple, low-cost, lower-maintenance water filtration device for Honduras communities, using a stacked-rapid sand filter.
- Cornell University for evaluating and improving cookstove fuel resources in Kenyan communities, by burning solid fuel without oxygen, which can create biochar for soil enrichment.
The students that participated in this competition – and young people across the country – continue to give me confidence that our next generation of American scientists and engineers are up to the task of solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems.
About the author: Bob Perciasepe is acting administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.