EPA SBIR

On a Mission: Finding Life Cycle Environmental Solutions

A blog post by April Richards and Mary Wigginton highlighting EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program–“the small program with the big mission”–was recently posted by the U.S. Small Business Administration. A portion is reposted below.

Compostable packing for shipping wine

Read about EPA-supported innovative companies and their products, such as environmentally-friendly packaging (pictured), in the SBA blog post.

We often describe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program as the small program with the big mission, to protect human health and the environment. The mission is big and the areas of focus are broad: air, water, climate change, waste and manufacturing. We strive to promote “greening” it all.

The President’s budget calls to equip the EPA with the best scientific information and research to underpin its regulatory actions and helps the agency find the most sustainable solutions for the wide range of environmental challenges facing the United States today. It supports high-priority research in such areas as air quality, sustainable approaches to environmental protection, and safe drinking water.

Through the years, the EPA SBIR program has supported advances in green technologies such as state-of-the-art monitoring devices and pollution clean-up systems and processes. Recently though, we have expanded to support companies whose ideas are launched from a foundation of life cycle assessment (LCA). This proactive approach means solving an environmental problem in a way that takes into account resources, feedstock, emissions, toxicity and waste.

While clean-up, containment systems, and other “end-of-pipe technologies” are still important for managing pollution and potential contaminants after they have been produced, we want to foster game-changers that reduce or eliminate their production in the first place.

Read the rest of the blog.

 

 

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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Saving Energy and Money: Go Team Go!

By Lek Kadeli

Portrait of Lek KadeliSpirited competition between local schools is a time honored tradition. From the football and soccer teams to the debate club, nothing beats taking on your arch rival to spark school spirit, get the neighbors talking, and build community pride.

That spirit of competition has helped schools here in the District of Columbia save more than 76,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, thanks to Lucid—an EPA-supported small business started by previous winners of the agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award.

The schools vied to see which could most dramatically reduce their energy consumption as part of the three-week “Sprint to Savings” competition. The DC Green Schools Challenge set up the competition to help schools conserve energy and save money while “engaging students in real-world learning opportunities.” It is managed by the the District of Columbia, Department of General Service (www.dgs.dc.gov).

To monitor their progress and take action, students used Lucid’s “Building Dashboard,” a software program that monitors a building’s energy and water consumption in real time and presents that information in easy-to-understand graphic displays on computer screens or other devices.

Students were able to use Building Dashboard installed at their schools to gauge their progress in 15-minute intervals and help the school take corrective action, such as switching lights off when not needed, shutting down unused computers and monitors, and turning the heat down after hours. A District-wide leader board helped them keep an eye on the competition.

Interactive Building Dashboard

Interactive Building Dashboard

The idea for a data monitoring display system begin when the now principal partners of Lucid Technology were students at Oberlin College. In 2005, their prototype won an EPA P3 Award. The P3 program is an annual student design competition that supports undergraduate and graduate student teams to research and design innovative, sustainable methods and products that solve complex environmental problems. Since then, there’s been no looking back!

Today, we are thrilled to announce that Lucid is among 20 other small businesses—including two other former P3 winners—selected to receive funding as part of the EPA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. The program was designed to support small businesses in the commercialization as well as the research and development of technologies that encourage sustainability, protect human health and the environment, and foster a healthy future. Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, and SimpleWater, LLC are the other two former P3 winning teams.

Thanks to Lucid, Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, SimpleWater, LLC and the other innovative small businesses we are supporting today, winning ideas are bringing products to the marketplace that protect our environment while sparking economic growth. I’ll bet that even arch rivals can agree that’s a win for everyone.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the Agency’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Are Mushrooms the new Styrofoam™?

By Gavin McIntyre

I started my career in advanced biomaterials after recognizing a problem that faces anyone who purchases items on the Internet, from frozen food to consumer electronics. Once you open your package, what do you do with all the bulky foam that’s not easily recycled?

Plastics and foams are ubiquitous in our everyday lives and serve a valuable role in many industries. But these materials are predominately derived from fossil fuels and most are not compostable. This creates a real problem when these materials are used in short-term applications like packaging, where their useful life lasts months at best. This is a concern for many municipalities since non-compostable synthetics continue to accumulate and fill landfills beyond their capacity.

Our goal was to develop compostable materials that are not derived from fossil fuels and do not require an exorbitant amount of energy to manufacture. In seeking to design an alternative, we took advantage of domestic waste streams that are abundant and rapidly renewable. These raw materials fit into nature’s recycling system and are beneficial to the environment once their useful lifecycle is complete.

Today our biomaterials replace the plastic foams used in the protective packaging and construction industries. Our technology uses the vegetative tissue from mushrooms, a vast network of unicellular filaments known as mycelium, as a natural adhesive to bind agricultural byproducts into a robust, foam-like material.

Our products are grown to the desired shape in just five days, and all the energy for growing the fungus comes from the agricultural waste. But most importantly these materials are safe (styrene was recently deemed a carcinogen), entirely home compostable, and comparable in cost to plastic foams.

Compostable packing for wine bottles.

A friend of mine, Eben Bayer, and I started Ecovative in 2007 right out of college to challenge this synthetic material paradigm. We needed a lot of support to get our nascent technology off the lab bench and into the market place. As two mechanical engineers, we first solicited the help of mycologist (mushroom biologist) Sue Van Hook.

We applied for an EPA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant to fund our research, which was awarded in early 2009. This Phase 1 award allowed us to optimize fungal strains and agricultural wastes necessary to approach potential customers. Today we operate two manufacturing facilities in upstate New York with 70 employees.  We will be opening two additional facilities in the U.S. over the next two years with a commercial partner, adding many new jobs to the economy. Everyday we come to work we leave satisfied that the products we literally grow offer a “green” alternative for packaging.

So hopefully next time you unbox you new computer you can put the packaging in your garden rather than sending it off to a landfill.

About the Author: Gavin McIntyre was the Principle Investigator under a series of Small Business Innovative Research grants awarded by the US EPA between 2009 and 2012. McIntyre’s research focuses on the development of novel materials and processes that emulate nature using agricultural byproducts and fungal mycelium to provide low cost alternatives to synthetics such as plastics.

And for more information on how EPA supports research for innovative environmental solutions and “green” jobs, read: Investing in a Sustainable Future.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.