innovation

Come See Innovation this Weekend!

Cynthia Nolt-Helms

P3 Teams hold a sign "We Love P3!"

Come see the P3 teams show innovation this weekend!

Spring is here, and there is much to look forward to in Washington, DC! Besides enjoying cherry blossoms and sunnier weather, I look forward to innovation. Odd, I know. But along with the flowers and festivals, innovative green technologies come to the DC area, too. This coming weekend, April 11-12, EPA is sponsoring the 11th Annual EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design competition for sustainability.

The EPA P3 Competition is an annual event for teams of graduate and undergraduate students to design solutions for environmental and sustainability challenges. Some 250 students representing 42 teams from colleges and universities across the country will be showcasing their ideas for green technologies and competing for the EPA P3 Award and a Phase II grant of up to $75,000.

These creative students, passionate about promoting a sustainable world, already have competed in the first phase of this national contest. They won a Phase I grant of $15,000 to work on their project during the school year.

Through EPA’s P3 Program, the students demonstrate their ability to work in multidisciplinary teams, navigate competition requirements, and perhaps most importantly, communicate the value of their ideas to a broad range of people. From the judges convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to the school children who may visit their exhibits, the teams will be explaining how they are taking their innovations from the drawing board to the real world for the benefit of people, to promote prosperity and to protect the planet. That’s P3!

In the interest of fairness, I don’t want to highlight any one of the competing teams. But I do get to brag about the accomplishments of past EPA P3 winners we were able to support through the program. To date, 25 percent of award winning teams have gone on to start companies or form nonprofit organizations. Through the years, faculty have used the program to develop college-level courses in sustainability where none had existed before. Because they won an EPA P3 Award, students have received other awards, funding and recognition—from coveted fellowships to investment capital to international environmental awards.

Now we’re at the beginning of a new cycle of accomplishments for a new class of P3 teams. Spring is a time of promise, and this week brings a new crop of green technologies that we think hold promise. For me and the rest of the EPA P3 team, the expo is the fun part of our jobs!

We hope you will join us. Meet the teams. Learn something about the environment you didn’t know. Explore solutions with the students.

Every year we are amazed and inspired by them. We think you will be too!

11th Annual EPA P3 Competition at the National Sustainable Design Expo:

  • Saturday, April 11, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Sunday, April 12, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Oronoco Bay Park, Alexandria, Virginia

About the Author: Cynthia Nolt-Helms has directed the P3 Program since 2006. A native of Oregon, she felt compelled from an early age to preserve the planet. Seeing public service as an opportunity to have a broad impact, she thought the EPA was a logical fit for her professional and personal goals. In 25+ years there, she has developed national wildlife criteria under the Clean Water Act and has led grant initiatives for clean water.

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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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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EPA: Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety

The following was originally posted on EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership.

Innovative-Research

By Gwen Keyes Fleming

For all of their beneficial uses, chemicals can also pose potential risks: manufacturing them can create emissions and waste, and exposure to them can impact our health and the environment. One of EPA’s highest priorities is making sure our children, our homes, and our communities are safer from toxic chemicals.

Last October, Administrator McCarthy asked EPA employees to log into GreenSpark, our internal online employee engagement platform, and share stories of the innovative and collaborative work that they are leading to take action on toxics and chemical safety. I’d like to share some of their exciting work with you.

Developing Innovative Science: EPA’s Office of Research and Development, with support from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is working to change the way we evaluate chemical safety to make it quicker and easier to understand the potential toxic effects of chemicals on human health and the environment.

Read the rest of the post.

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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New Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water

The following excerpt is reposted from “EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By Ellen Gilinksy

You likely remember when, this past summer, half a million people who live in the Toledo, Ohio, area were told not to drink the water coming out of their taps for several days. A state of emergency was declared because of a harmful algal bloom, which released toxins into the water that could have made many people ill.

Algal blooms like the one near Toledo are partly caused by an excessive amount of nutrients in the waternutrient-sensor## – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for ecosystems, but too many of them in one place is bad news. Not only do harmful algal blooms pose huge risks for people’s health, they can also cause fish and other aquatic wildlife to die off.

Cleaning up drinking water after a harmful algal bloom can cost billions of dollars, and local economies can suffer. The U.S. tourism industry alone loses close to $1 billion each year when people choose not to fish, go boating or visit areas that have been affected. It’s one of our country’s biggest and most expensive environmental problems. It’s also a particularly tough one, since nutrients can travel from far upstream and in runoff, and collect in quieter waters like lakes or along coastlines.

That’s why a group of federal agencies and private partners – including our Office of Research and Development and our Office of Water – are announcing the Nutrient Sensor Challenge. The challenge will help accelerate the development of sensors that can be deployed in the environment to measure nutrients in our country’s waterways. Its goal is to have new, affordable sensors up and running by 2017.

At EPA we run an innovative research program on nutrients management, at sites that range from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay. We’ve also been working with new technologies that can give us better information on nutrient pollution, including satellites and portable remote sensors.

Read the rest of the post.

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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THE PATH(FINDER) FORWARD

Crossposted from “GovLoop”

Student contractor and frequent “It All Starts with Science” contributor Dustin Renwick was selected as a featured blogger on GovLoop, an online community of government workers and those interested in public service. Below is his post about EPA’s “Pathfinder Innovation Projects” that was originally posted as part of that series.

By Dustin Renwick

 

Graphic of satellite and text, "Wouldn't it be amazing if we could measure water quality without getting in a boat?

 

 

What makes you yell with excitement?

Roger Hanlon, a marine biologist, captured video of an octopus in camouflage mode. Hanlon hit the surface screaming. “They thought I was having a dive accident,” he says in the video. “It was a eureka moment.”

We like eureka moments on the innovation team, and we look for ways to increase the chances those moments happen more often. Consider it engineered serendipity.

Pathfinder Innovation Projects (we call them PIPs) provide space for bold ideas that have the potential for transformational scientific change. PIPs tap the creativity of agency employees.

The PIPs program is an internal competition that provides seed funding and time for EPA Office of Research and Development scientists to pursue high-risk, high-reward research. Any scientist or post-doc can submit an innovative idea, and external panels of experts help us spot the proposals that have the most potential.

We challenge our researchers to consider the question: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if EPA could … ?”

EPA has answered with almost 300 proposals in four years.

In the program’s first three years, we’ve had scientists measure coastal water quality from space, test glowing tadpoles that indicate endocrine disruptors in water, and build systems to better mimic human lungs for airborne chemical toxicity screens.

And we just announced the awardees for the fourth year.

PIPs allow us to examine and nurture the pitches that challenge current thinking or could leapfrog the current science in that field if successful. At a more general level, the program demonstrates the power of acknowledging that good ideas with broad impact can come from anyone in an organization.

  • Has your office tried a program to spark innovation internally?
  • What insights have you gained from these kinds of programs?

About the Author: Student contractor Dustin Renwick is a member of EPA’s Innovation Team in the Office of Research and Development. He is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program featuring posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!).

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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Technology for Community Resiliency

By Paul Lemieux

This week I was honored to participate in the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day. From finding an open gas station to finding a safe place to sleep at night following a disaster or finding a vehicle you can rent by the hour, participants shared a variety of amazing technology applications to help make communities more resilient in the aftermath of disaster.

Me giving a presentation on I-WASTE at the White House's Old Executive Office Building.

Paul giving a presentation on I-WASTE at the White House’s Old Executive Office Building.

While there were some great private sector tools from big innovators like Airbnb, Google, Microsoft, SeeClickFix, and TaskRabbit there were just as many amazing tools from government innovators, too.

An example of some of the government tools highlighted during the demo:

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) announced GeoQ, a tool that crowdsources geo-tagged photos of disaster-affected areas to assess damage over large regions. Developed in coordination with NGA, the Presidential Innovation Fellow Program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other disaster analysts, GeoQ improves the speed and quality of disaster-related data coordination by using a data crowd-sharing framework. Programmers can use the existing services and add features to customize the GeoQ code for their own community.

The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) highlighted ShakeMap and other post-earthquake information tools that offer rapid situational awareness for disaster response and recovery. Using data from seismic monitoring systems maintained by USGS and its state and university partners, ShakeMap provides a rapid graphical estimate of ground shaking in an affected region on the web within minutes of an event. The maps and underlying data, which can be downloaded in numerous formats for use in GIS and other applications, are also the basis for ShakeCast—which enables emergency managers at a growing number of companies, response organizations, and local governments to automatically receive USGS shaking data and generate their own customized impact alerts for their facilities.

And I showcased EPA’s I-WASTE, a flexible, web-based, planning and decision-making tool to address disaster waste management issues. I-WASTE offers emergency responders, industry representatives, and responsible officials reliable information on waste characterization, treatment, and disposal options, as well as guidance on how to incorporate waste management into planning and response for natural disasters, terrorist attacks and animal disease outbreaks.

It is clear that there are a number of public and private organizations working together with individuals and communities around the country to ensure that together we are prepared and ready to respond to the next disaster we might face.

Watch a video of how I-WASTE can help your community, embedded below, or go to http://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/homeland/clean-up.htm


Paul Lemieux, Ph.D. works on issues related to clean up after chemical/biological/radiological attacks and foreign animal disease outbreaks. Paul has also been working to develop computer-based decision support tools to aid decision makers in responding to wide-area contamination incidents. He is the Associate Division Director of the Decontamination and Consequence Management Division of U.S. EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center.

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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Interested in air sensors? Tune in to our webinar!

By Dustin Renwick

Soccer goalie with outstretched hand

Goal? Sensors will help make the call.

Sensors are everywhere these days. Some determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line in the World Cup. Others help EPA, state and local agencies, and communities take a more in-depth look at air quality.

Commercial manufacturers continue to develop low-cost air sensors that are portable and can relay data in nearly real-time. EPA researchers have begun to develop sensors and test their potential applications. Join our webinar on July 8 at 1 p.m. ET to learn more.

EPA researcher Ron Williams presented a small set of findings at the 2014 Air Sensors workshop in June, the fourth in a series of workshops designed to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with next-generation air quality monitoring technologies and data. Check out the Twitter feed for a look at the discussions that happened last month.

The sensor team, including Williams, has tested these new technologies in the laboratory and in the field. The group assessed how the sensors performed under a range of environmental conditions and with several different kinds of air pollutants. The team also evaluated the technical side of the sensors, including features such as data transmission and battery life.

EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

EPA’s Village Green Project

Williams will share much more information on the webinar, including the progress of the Village Green Project air monitor prototype and newly published reports about the use of these low-cost technologies.

“We have a lot to learn about sensors, their use, and how they can be applied for a wide variety of air monitoring applications,” Williams said.

“This presentation will give viewers an opportunity to understand what we at EPA have been doing and where the future lies in better understanding sensors and their potential applications.”

If you have any interest in the how sensors are transforming clean air science, the webinar will be worth watching!

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA 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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EPA Science: Insight. Innovation. Impact.

By Lek Kadeli

“Science has been the backbone of the most significant advances EPA has made in the past four decades and continues to be the engine that drives American prosperity and innovation in the future.”  — Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator

Late last month, Administrator Gina McCarthy gave a speech to the National Academy of Sciences about the central role that science plays in the work that we do here at EPA. In her speech, she noted how EPA research results have helped protect generations of American’s who now enjoy not only a cleaner, healthier environment, but a more prosperous future. “When we follow the science, we all win,” the Administrator said.

As the acting assistant administrator for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I have the privilege of watching that winning science unfold on a daily basis. I have a front row seat to the deliberative, time-honored scientific processes that yields results that have been carefully scrutinized, peer-reviewed, and more importantly, advances our understanding of some of the most critical challenges facing our nation.

Because our mandate is clear—to protect human health and the environment—our researchers must deliver results that support actions and policies that have true impact. Highlights of some of those achievements from last year are featured in our recently-released report, Insight. Innovation. Impact. 2013 Accomplishments, EPA Office of Research and Development.

The accomplishments presented in the report illustrate how insight, innovation, and impact are at the heart of our research.

annual-report-2013-lgTogether with agency program offices and regions as well as partnerships cultivated with stakeholders and throughout the scientific community, EPA research teams provide critical insight into current and emerging human health and environmental challenges. To that knowledge, they apply a collective spirit of innovation to provide timely, cost-effective tools, models, and other solutions. Finally, their research results are incorporated in ways that have true positive impact: improving human health, taking action on climate change, lowering exposure and risks to harmful pollutants, increasing national security, and advancing more resilient, sustainable and prosperous communities.

No other research organization in the world offers the overall diversity of expertise found in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. For more than four decades, this community of scientists and engineers has helped the Agency protect our environment, even as the economy has grown and the country has become stronger and more secure. I invite you to use our latest report for a transparent look at some of the latest achievements that continued commitment has yielded. Thanks to their efforts, we all win.  

Download the report. 

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. He has more than 29 years of management experience in both government and the private sector, with broad experience in leading organizational change and improvement, policy development, resource management, information management and technology.

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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Going Solar One Neighborhood at a Time

By Jacques Kapuscinksi

Photograph of solar-panel-covered roof.

Soaking up the sun with neighborhood solar.

A couple of years ago my neighbor and I discussed how neat it would be to have solar panels installed on our homes. Our unshaded, flat, and south-facing roofs seemed ideal. Then, while doing research about the economic incentives available in Washington DC, I found out about a nonprofit that is helping neighborhoods organize residential solar group purchases. The savings realized by installing panels on many homes in the same area are passed along to the homeowners—up to 30% less on the total cost of the system.

I decided to establish a Coop in the area where I live, and together we organized forums at a community center, a local library, and at a friend’s home to discuss the process, including the economic and environmental benefits of going solar.

Our initial group of 24 collectively selected a vendor to install our solar panels. We must be on to something, because the number of interested homeowners has now grown to more than 135, and over 25 people have already signed contracts.

In addition to the savings of buying via a coop, a 30% Federal tax credit is available until the end of 2016. Additionally, our local DC utility company is required by law to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy.  People who install solar panels in Washington DC generate Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, which the utility buys instead of building their own solar arrays. Homeowners can also sell these credits on an open market. SREC values fluctuate with the market, but right now their value can account for around another 30% of the cost of the system over time.

Another incentive that is not available right now but may be soon is a DC renewable energy rebate. Such a rebate could be as much as $1,500 to $2,000 for each solar-panel-topped home. In 3 to 4 years I will recoup all of my upfront costs, and will have lower utility bills.

Over its 25 to30 year lifetime, a system will generate tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of electricity.  I will be connected to the grid, and thanks to something called “netmetering,” my home will seamlessly switch between using the energy produced on my roof and “rolling over” any excess produced to the grid.

The photovoltaic panels that will be installed have micro-inverters, so each panel will have a monitor attached that feeds into the meter outside of the house, if one of the panels ever goes down I will know immediately.

All of these incentives make solar panels an affordable investment, and a priceless down payment for my children’s future to combat climate change.

About the Author: Jacques Kapuscinski is the Web Content Coordinator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development and is the community manager for EPA’s Science Inventory.

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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EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future

 

Reposted from EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

 

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”  -PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

 

By Lek Kadeli

KadeliEach spring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides the nation with a glimpse of America’s winning future through our P3 student design competition for sustainability.

“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students and their academic advisors devise innovative solutions to meet environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity, and protect the planet. Through that work, the competition engages the greater academic community and the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers in the principles of sustainability.

The competition is a two-phase process. In Phase I, teams submit design proposals for a chance to receive grants of up to $15,000 to research and test original sustainability projects. In addition to research funds, winning teams earn the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to publically showcase their designs and prototypes at the National Sustainable Design Expo.

During the Expo, teams also showcase their work to a panel of judges for a chance to enter Phase II of the competition—which includes up to $90,000 in additional grant money to help bring their designs and products to the marketplace. Successful P3 projects ultimately benefit the economy and create jobs in our communities.

President Obama said in this year’s State of the Union address “that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” This program exemplifies that spirit of innovation.

WeLoveP3Over the past 10 years, EPA has awarded more than 550 grants to university and college student teams across the nation. A number of teams have leveraged their winning ideas into thriving small businesses and nonprofit organizations, sparking job growth as they advance sustainability and public health. For example:

  • An inter-collegiate team made up of students from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and two Chinese universities launched the nonprofit organization One Earth Design (OED) based on their winning project: a solar-powered device that cooks, provides heat, and generates electricity.
  • A team from the University of Massachusetts designed a process for producing a nontoxic flame retardant from cashew oil. The end result provides the benefit of suppressing flames that is as effective as the more toxic synthetic retardants in use today.
  • Students from the University of Arizona designed an irrigation system for small farmers that also serves as a fish farm. Rows of irrigation ditches filled with fish provide a local source of fertilizer that boosts crop yields while yielding additional sources of food and profit.
  • Western Washington University students partnered with local dairy farmers for their project using cow manure as a source of fuel-grade methane for running vehicles.
  • Re-design methods developed by a team of University of Tennessee students have helped transform depression-era housing into buildings that meet both energy efficient, green building standards and strict historical preservation codes.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program. Both the P3 public displays and the National Sustainable Design Expo will be held in conjunction with the USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Washington Convention Center, April 26-27. Now in its third year, the USA Science & Engineering Festival is the largest science festival in the United States.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’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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