Behind the Nutrient Recycling Challenge

By Joseph Ziobro

It’s pretty great when your job involves finding the cutting edge of innovation. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking into technologies that make it easier for livestock producers to manage manure, protect water quality, and create new sources of revenue.

One area where we see promise is in nutrient recovery technologies. These technologies extract nutrients from manure and create fertilizer products that can be applied more precisely to crops and affordably transported greater distances. Thousands of livestock producers are asking for these technologies, but they are still not efficient enough to be in wide use.

That’s where innovation challenges come in. My teammate, Hema Subramanian, and I reached out to key players in manure management and asked, “What can we do together to get producers the technologies they want, and protect water quality?” People were extremely excited, so we convened a planning committee with dairy and pork producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists and environmental experts.

Together, we identified barriers to technology adoption and began crafting a prize competition to overcome those barriers. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge was born.

In a nutshell, we’re asking innovators to develop better and cheaper nutrient recovery technologies. A major draw of prize competitions is that they reach innovators from different backgrounds who can bring fresh perspectives to the table. We want outside-the-box thinking from innovators of all stripes — tenured scientists or weekend garage tinkerers.

Phase I of the Challenge is open now through Jan. 15, and we are looking for your concept papers describing technology ideas. Later in 2016, EPA and partners will identify the most promising entries and support semi-finalists as they turn their concepts into working technologies.

EPA is committed to building relationships with the livestock industry through partnerships. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge exemplifies this collaborative approach. Our starting point is that EPA and farmers both want healthy waters and prosperous agriculture. And we’re looking for your innovative ideas to help us get there.

For more information and to enter, go to

About the author: Joseph Ziobro is a physical scientist in the Rural Branch of the Water Permits Division at EPA. Joseph supports the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program as well as voluntary initiatives with the livestock industry.

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