Around the Water Cooler: Can Innovations Solve Our Nutrient Problem?

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Nitrogen is an integral part of proteins, the building blocks of life. But in excess, like anything else, it can have negative effects. In fact, too many nutrients, including nitrogen, can cause depletion of available oxygen in surface waters, toxic algal blooms, hypoxia and acid rain.

The consequences aren’t pretty. Excess nitrogen threatens our air and water quality as well as disrupts the health of our communities, people and land. In other words, some plants and animals can’t live in this kind of environment. I’ve written about this problem before. For example, check out this post on seagrasses.

Nutrient pollution is a problem that affects many areas in the United States, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and New England’s Narragansett Bay.

To help combat this overwhelming nutrient problem Cleantech Innovations New England  is providing awards to applicant teams of up to $130,000 as part of the i6 Green Challenge, funded by EPA in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy.

The funds will be awarded to develop ground-breaking and affordable technologies that can reduce nitrogen discharge from septic systems by 95%. (A high proportion of New England communities and more than 20% of U.S. Residents rely on septic systems). In addition, these new technologies should be able to recover nutrients (nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and preferably potassium (K)) from the wastewater and/or also create energy.

The technologies must be scalable and affordable, with retrofits to existing septic systems costing in the range of $5,000 to $10,000, and no more than $25,000 for new installations. Of course, on-site nutrient monitoring should also be considered in order to monitor performance.

For more information and to apply for the award, please visit Cleantech Innovations New England. The deadline to apply is January 18th, 2013.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and is a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.