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Innovating for a Green Economy

2012 May 22

By April Richards

Growing plant with economic growth chartAs an EPA engineer, I like to think that my to do list runs something like this: Help save the environment. (Check.) Protect human health. (Check.) Create jobs. (Check.)

While you might be surprised by that third item on the list, it’s true! EPA has been funding small businesses for over 20 years through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop innovative environmental technologies that are “commercializable.”

Successful SBIR companies are able to take the small seed funding provided by EPA and leverage that investment to bring in other sources of funding such as venture capital.  Companies are then able to grow by hiring new scientists, engineers and other employees needed to develop and sometimes manufacture their technology.

EPA’s SBIR program works hard to find companies that are innovating in ways that maximize environmental benefits. 

One cool example of this is a young, up and coming company that is working on converting waste to energy.  Cambrian Innovation has developed a bio-electrochemical system to treat wastewater from ethanol distillation (as well as other fermentation-based industries) while also generating electricity.

These efforts led to the concept of self-powered wastewater treatment plants earning the company the Ignite Clean Energy Prize in 2009. Due in part to the success of the bio-electrochemical  system developed with support of EPA’s SBIR Program, Cambrian recently received venture capital funding and has increased their workforce from four to 12 employees.

When one liter of ethanol is produced up to 14 liters of waste are created, meaning more than 100 billion liters of wastewater are generated per year!  Using novel microbes to generate electricity directly during the treatment process, Cambrian is able to convert some of this waste to clean energy. Cambrian’s system has the potential to make the biofuels infrastructure more sustainable.

Such innovation, of course is not just good for the environment, but good for the economy.

“The EPA SBIR program has been instrumental in helping Cambrian Innovation achieve our goal of becoming a world-leader in the field of environmental bio-technology and bio-electrochemical systems,” said CEO, Dr. Matthew Silver, adding that “EPA funding helped us move our technology from the bleeding edge to a viable and highly-disruptive industrial product. Working directly with the EPA has also given us tremendous insight into the environmental regulations that will shape water innovation and protect our environment in the coming decade.”

For more information on the government-wide SBIR Program see

About the Author: April Richards joined EPA in 2001 and is Program Manager for the Agency’s SBIR Program.  She appreciates the practicality and commercial edge that small businesses bring to environmental protection.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    May 22, 2012

    Could The People Follow The Genius People ?

    I cries to see the poor and weak people in the most countries who are not able to journey their life. They do not using their unskilled and homeless. But, in fact, they done something as like as ‘green’ minded as Scavengers….!

  2. May 22, 2012

    Green economy starts when plain consumerism stops. That is when we compare services vs. products that use consumer 70-30. In Europe is 50-50 services over products. We must change our “Consumerism” mentality and step out of the consumers society to start the green society of conservation and restoration. If we buy less we save and create less waste too. Buying local only will establish a green economy, utilizing local land for produce. Data sets indicate that cities that take community standards of farmer’s market approach have less crime, and more healthy life styles.

  3. May 22, 2012

    I’m sure as the years roll by more individuals and groups will contribute to the environmental concerns and issues we face in the not too distant future. I share the view of many others who realize how important it is to reduce our ecological footprints and live, work, and play in sustainable environments. Thank you for your effort to bring about awareness and jobs, protect human health, and save our environment, April!

  4. Brad Hestir permalink
    May 22, 2012

    Essentially, corporations are required to attend only to the bottom line. Under these rules this means that the equation for success will always place monitary profit over other values such as environment, human rights, etc. So, Green Economy is one that changes the equation. Let the rules require that monitary profits be balanced with these other values. Perhaps it wuold even be possible to be successful without profit. It would redefine progress as well. We could enjoy “Living Well” as Evo Morales says, or be able to count “Gross National Hapiness”

  5. smile@mpeg to mov permalink
    November 28, 2012

    Great piece of work thanks.I was looking for the same.

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