Around the Water Cooler: P3 Promotes Student Innovation and Sustainability Science

By Sarah Blau

In Washington, DC this week? Then come on out to the National Mall today and tomorrow, and meet the teams of college students gathering to compete in EPA’s P3 competition as part of the National Sustainable Design Expo.

“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students strive to solve environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity and protect the planet—all at the same time. P3 competitors are outside-the-box thinkers and continually inspire us with their innovation and ideas.

The competition has two phases. In Phase I, student teams and their faculty advisors submit research proposals for a chance to win seed money to research and develop designs for sustainable solutions to current environmental and human health challenges. In Phase II, winning teams receive additional funding to start developing marketable prototypes of their sustainable designs.

Embry-Riddles Aeronautical University students demonstrate their design.

P3 sustainability projects span the gamut of environmental topics—from air quality to water availability to harnessing solar energy. Since we’re chatting “Around the Water Cooler” today, here is a quick glimpse at just a handful of the water-related 2012-2013 P3 grant recipients:

  • Loyola University of Chicago students are designing a unique green process to treat byproducts of biodiesel production, using a combination distillation and wetlands system to treat and reuse contaminants onsite. Their goal is to make biodiesel production fully sustainable. (Phase I)
  • Working with a university in the Philippines, Manhattan College students are developing a treatment system that uses solar power to remove salt from seawater to produce potable water and is made with concrete from local materials. This work addresses the lack of clean drinking water that is one of the most significant health issues in many countries around the world. (Phase I)
  • University of Florida students are designing a process to “harvest” essential crop nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from liquid waste while ensuring the final harvested nutrients are free of pharmaceuticals. They expect to produce a cheaper, renewable fertilizer that reduces the costs and harmful impacts of wastewater treatment. (Phase I)
  • Embry-Riddles Aeronautical University students are designing a foldable solar power water purification system that can fit into a backpack for easy transport for use after a disaster that affects the drinking water supply. (Phase II)

For a complete listing of all P3 teams for the year, click here. And if you’re in the Washington DC area, be sure to stop by and say “hi” to these passionate students!

About the Author: Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.