P3 Student Design Competition

EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition: Where Science and Creative Genius Meet

By Christina Burchette

This year’s USA National Science & Engineering Festival was a huge event. The convention center in downtown Washington, DC was buzzing all weekend long with thousands of people coming to see the fascinating gizmos and gadgets on display by various companies and organizations (and to learn about science, of course).

While many of the exhibits boasted flashy set-ups and hi-tech gadgets that could awe anyone, our P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) student design competition participants were impressing passersby with the innovative genius of their simple, sustainable, and cost-effective projects. The EPA P3 design program invites college students to design environmental solutions that move us towards a sustainable future by benefiting people, promoting prosperity, and protecting the planet.

P3 participant shows project to little kid

P3 participant explains air filter project

Students share their P3 projects at the festival.

This year, 38 student teams received P3 Phase I grants of up to $15,000 to research and test the original projects that they presented at the USA Science & Engineering Festival. In a couple of months, some of these teams will be chosen to receive up to $75,000 in additional grant money to continue developing their projects and implement them in the field or marketplace.

When I wandered into the two rows of P3 teams, I was floored by the creativity and ingenuity of the projects—and how excited these students were to share their work.

One team told me that they created a self-sustaining mini-ecosystem comprised of just fish and vegetables. The fish waste provided fertilizer for the vegetables, and the vegetables kept the water clean for the fish to thrive. The system will provide organic food to those who need it most—the team was hoping to set up these systems at elementary schools for children who don’t get enough to eat at home. To add to that, the team plans to employ homeless vets to maintain and manage the mini-ecosystems. The project design is simple, completely organic and sustainable, and considers socioeconomic issues as well as environmental ones!

Another team used what they described as “home depot technology” to solve a problem that plagues major rivers that flow into the ocean: eutrophication, an excess of nutrients clogging waterways and sparking algal growth that absorbs oxygen that aquatic creatures depend on. Their project involved installing bioreactors with naturally-occurring bacteria at the edges of crop fields so that that bacteria could eat the excess nitrate that is washed away from fields by rain, instead of allowing it to flow off into waterways. It blew my mind how simple and effective their design was, and the fact that they said anyone could build it with the right tools.

What amazed me most about listening to all of the students and faculty talk about their projects is the fact that they’ve managed to develop such creative solutions to environmental issues that seem impossible to solve. It just goes to show how much we can accomplish with science, inspiration, and a little creativity.


About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in 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.

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.

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.

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.