SBIR

On the Road from Cajun Country to the Heartland to Seed Small Business Innovation Research

By Greg Lank

Group holds up a sign that reads "SBIR Road Tour"

On our “Seeding America’s Future Innovations” tour

In April, I had the pleasure of representing EPA on a bus tour during the second leg of “Seeding America’s Future Innovations,” a national effort to spread the word about the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The two programs are coordinated by the Small Business Administration and administered by EPA and 10 other federal agencies. Together—“America’s Largest Seed Fund”—they provide $2.5 billion of contracts and other awards to small, advanced technology firms to spur discoveries and facilitate the commercialization of innovations.

We traveled from the Cajun country of Long Beach, Mississippi and Ruston, Louisiana through Texas and into the heartland, including Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Wichita, Kansas and finally Columbia, Missouri.  At every stop, each representative shared an overview of their agency’s SBIR program, including existing opportunities and exciting success stories of now thriving businesses have come out of the program.

Following the presentations, companies had the rest of the morning to sit down with representatives from the SBIR program of their choice for one-on-one meetings and to get answers to their questions.  The primary question that every company asked me was if their technology would fit into one of EPA’s SBIR topic areas. And I learned that there is broad interest in water resources and energy recovery—exciting topics where innovation can lead to the recovery and reuse of resources that are presently lost in the waste stream.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Everyone was humbled and honored to pay their respects at The Oklahoma City National Memorial

In between locations the Road Tour stopped at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR). Everyone was humbled and honored to pay their respects at The Oklahoma City National Memorial, which honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and others affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. At NIAR, I was fascinated to see the testing that goes into making air travel safe globally.

Each packed-house tour stop proved to be a phenomenal platform to collaborate, educate and learn.  Collaboration occurred between federal agencies, academia and innovators.  Finally, all who attended functioned as educators and students.  Not only were we able to educate the attendees about our programs, but meeting them provided us with the opportunity to learn about the exciting innovations coming down the pike from our Nation’s best and brightest. The next tour will be the north central tour from July 13-18. That will be followed the final tour, August 17-21 through the Pacific Northwest.

To learn more about EPA’s SBIR program, visit www.epa.gov/ncer/sbir.

About the Author: Greg Lank is a mechanical engineer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He manages grants and contracts for the SBIR and People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) programs, which facilitate the research, development and deployment of sustainability innovations.

 

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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Local Water Woes, No More? Advancing Safe Drinking Water Technology

By Ryann A. Williams

P3 Team shows their water filter

The SimpleWater company got their start as an EPA P3 team.

As a child growing up in Washington, D.C. I remember hearing adults talk about their concerns about the local tap water. Overheard conversations about lead content and murkiness in the water certainly got my attention. As an adult who now works at the Environmental Protection Agency, I know things have greatly improved.

Today, DC tap water is among the least of my concerns. I drink it every day. Frequent testing to confirm its safety and public awareness campaigns by DC Water (the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority) have put my own worries to rest. But in other parts of the world and even in some areas of the U.S., people still have a reason to worry about their drinking water: arsenic.

Globally, millions of people are exposed to arsenic via drinking water and can suffer serious adverse health effects from prolonged exposure.

This is especially true in Bangladesh where it is considered a public health emergency. Other countries where drinking water can contain unsafe levels of arsenic include Argentina, Chile, Mexico, China, Hungary, Cambodia, Vietnam, and West Bengal (India). In addition, parts of the U.S. served by private wells or small drinking water systems also face risks due to arsenic in their drinking water.

Remedies are expensive and both energy- and chemical-intensive.

In 2007, a student team from the University of California, Berkeley won an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award for their research project aiming to help change that.

Explaining the arsenic removal project.

Explaining the arsenic removal project.

The students set out to test a cost-effective, self-cleaning, and sustainable arsenic-removal technology that employs a simple electric current. The current charges iron particles that attract and hold on to arsenic, and are then removed by filter or settle out of the water.

By the end of their P3 funding in 2010, promising results had allowed the team to extend their field testing to Cambodia and India, and move forward with the licensing and marketing of their product to interested companies in Bangladesh and India.

Today, the same group of former Berkeley students who formed the P3 team now own a company called SimpleWater.

SimpleWater is among 21 companies that recently received a Phase One contract from EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program.

SimpleWater aims to commercialize their product and bring their track record of success in Bangladesh and India to help Americans who may be at risk from arsenic exposure in their drinking water. In particular they’re focusing on those who live in arsenic-prone areas and whose drinking water is served by private wells or small community water systems that test positive for elevated arsenic levels. (Learn more about Arsenic in Drinking Water and what to do if you think testing is needed for your water.)

Thanks to EPA support, SimpleWater is working to reduce the threat of arsenic in small drinking water systems and private wells. With their help, millions of people may soon feel safer about their drinking water, and like me, have one less big thing to worry about.

About the Author: Ryann Williams is a student services contractor with the communications team at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. When she’s not working with the team, she enjoys other team activities like soccer and football.

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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Rethinking Wastewater

By Marguerite Huber

glass of beer

The next time you enjoy a beer you might be helping the environment.

The next time you enjoy a cold, refreshing beer or glass of wine, you might also be helping the environment. Over 40 billion gallons of wastewater are produced every day in the United States, and wineries, breweries, and other food and beverage producers are significant contributors.  For example, the brewing industry averages five or six barrels of water to produce just one barrel of beer.

But where most see only waste, others see potential resources. What we label “wastewater” can contain a wealth of compounds and microbes, some of which can be harvested.

One innovative company that has recognized this, Cambrian Innovation, is harnessing wastewater’s potential through the world’s first bioelectrically-enhanced, wastewater-to-energy systems, EcoVolt. (We first blogged about them in 2012.)

Cambrian Innovation is working with Bear Republic Brewing Company, one of the largest craft breweries in the United States. Located in California, which is suffering from severe drought, Bear Republic first began testing Cambrian’s technology to save water and reduce energy costs. Fifty percent of the brewery’s electricity and more than twenty percent of its heat needs could be generated with EcoVolt. Compared to industry averages, Bear Republic uses only three and a half barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer.

The EcoVolt bioelectric wastewater treatment system leverages a process called “electromethanogenesis,” in which electrically-active organisms convert carbon dioxide and electricity into methane, a gas used to power generators.  The methane is renewable and can provide an energy source to the facility.

Rather than being energy intensive and expensive, like traditional wastewater treatment, Cambrian’s technology generates electricity as well as cost savings.

Furthermore, the EcoVolt technology is capable of automated, remote operation, which can further decrease operating costs.

EPA first awarded Cambrian Innovation a Phase I (“proof of concept”) Small Business Innovation Research contract in 2010. Based on that work, the company then earned a Phase II contract in 2012 to develop wastewater-to-energy technology. Cambrian Innovation has also developed innovative solutions with funding from other partners, including the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Defense, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With access to water sources becoming more of a challenge in many areas of the country, Cambrian’s technology can help change how we look at wastewater. It doesn’t have to be waste! Wastewater can instead be an asset, but only as long as we keep pushing its potential. That can make enjoying a cold glass of your favorite beverage even easier to enjoy!

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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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Waste to Value: EPA’s Role in Advancing Science and Business

Electrogenic bioreactor containing "Bactobots" and wastewater.

Electrogenic bioreactor containing “Bactobots” and wastewater.

By Marguerite Huber

In case you missed it in the news, a New-York-based micro-robotics firm, Tauriga, acquired Cincinnati-based Pilus Energy last month. In the business world, acquisitions and mergers happen all the time, but I bet you are wondering what makes this one significant to the EPA?

Tauriga CEO, Seth M. Shaw describes Pilus Energy’s technology as “extraordinary.” What makes it so is that Pilus Energy operates with the goal of turning waste into value, turning sewage into electricity to power approximately 275 million homes a year!

Their innovative technology claims to transform dirty, wastewater into electricity, as well as clean water, and other valuable biogases and chemicals. The secret to this venture is the help of genetically enhanced bacteria, given the more affectionate name of “Bactobots.”

“Essentially we are mining wastewater for valuable resources similarly to gold mining companies mining ore for gold,” Shaw confides.

Now this is where the EPA comes in.

Dr. Vasudevan Namboodiri, an EPA scientist with 20 years of research and development experience, explains that EPA and Pilus are investigating the potential for Pilus Energy technology in the water industry.

With EPA’s technical oversight, Pilus Energy’s goal is to eventually build an industrial pilot-scale prototype.  This type of technology is still in its infancy and will be many years away from large scale production, Dr. Namboodiri explained.

Large- scale usage of the technology could possibly be revolutionary, and provide great benefits in the future. Tauriga CEO Shaw notes that, “There is an enormous global need to maximize all resources available, due to population growth and energy costs.” If applied to whole communities in both developing and developed countries, there could be major benefits such as:

  • Reduced wastewater treatment costs
  • Creation of a renewable energy source
  • Valuable chemical byproducts that could be used towards renewable products
  • Higher quality water for both drinking and recreation
  • Healthier food due to less contaminates in soil
  • Improved ecosystem benefits or services and biodiversity if applied in an entire watershed

Even though the large scale benefits will likely not be seen until years from now, the partnership between Pilus Energy and the EPA helps support EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Services Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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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Sister Blog: Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership, recently shared a post featuring Ecovative, one of our favorite success stories!

Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

By Judith Enck

Sometimes I worry that one of the enduring manmade wonders of our time will be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You know the Garbage Patch – the huge concentration of marine debris (mostly plastics) floating in the Pacific Ocean. It may still be there centuries from now. I wonder if a thousand years from now, tourists will visit the Garbage Patch the way we do the Roman Coliseum or the Pyramids. They’ll take pictures and stand there with their mouths agape wondering “how could they let this happen?”

Personally, I’m hopeful we can reduce the “greatness” of the garbage patch – and solve many of our other waste disposal problems – by reducing packaging or at least making it more sustainable.

Wine packaging

read more…

 

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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Sister Blog: Innovating our Way to a Cleaner Future

This post was originally published on our sister blog, EPA Connect

By Bob Perciasepe

The history of environmental protection in the United States is a history of innovation. From catalytic converters to advanced batteries, technological innovations have helped us protect our health and environment by reducing pollution.

bob p blog

One company receiving SBIR funding is developing an efficient and low-cost manufacturing method to recycle rare earth-based magnets from industrial scrap.

With that history in mind, today EPA announced more than $2 million in contracts to seven small businesses to develop sustainable technologies that can help protect our environment. EPA’s funding will support technologies ranging from an E-waste recycling process that will help recover valuable resources from industrial scrap to an environmentally friendly insulation that can support energy efficiency in green buildings.

EPA announced that the following seven small businesses will receive contracts from EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program:

Since the program’s inception in 1983, EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program has made close to 1,500 awards to small businesses to develop and market their technologies.  One such company, Defiant Technologies, won a Small Business Innovation Research contract in 2011 to develop a portable device to detect and analyze harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the environment.  Defiant Technologies’ FROG-4000 is now available on the market and allows for onsite analysis of VOCs in 10 minutes – protecting people’s health and reducing the cost of environmental analysis.

Do you have an idea for an innovative technology that can help protect the environment? EPA is still accepting research proposals through August 13 for Small Business Innovation Research funding.

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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Innovating our Way to a Cleaner Future

The history of environmental protection in the United States is a history of innovation. From catalytic converters to advanced batteries, technological innovations have helped us protect our health and environment by reducing pollution.

With that history in mind, today EPA announced more than $2 million in contracts to seven small businesses to develop sustainable technologies that can help protect our environment. EPA’s funding will support technologies ranging from an E-waste recycling process that will help recover valuable resources from industrial scrap to an environmentally friendly insulation that can support energy efficiency in green buildings.

One company receiving SBIR funding is developing an efficient and low-cost manufacturing method to recycle rare earth-based magnets from industrial scrap.

One company receiving SBIR funding is developing an efficient and low-cost manufacturing method to recycle rare earth-based magnets from industrial scrap.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Materials Science 101: Molding Mushrooms

By Dustin Renwick

Compostable packing for shipping wineYour new TV or fancy bottle of wine came in a cardboard box that can be recycled, but thanks to a small, eco-friendly business, those white packing pieces that cushion and protect consumer goods inside boxes could go a step further in the product life cycle.

Ecovative, located in New York, wants you to throw the packaging in your compost pile.

Typically, those pieces are made of polystyrene foam, which hangs around in landfills for hundreds of years after it’s been discarded. Ecovative can replace that foam with another white material: mycelium.

Fungi absorb nutrients with their mycelia. Think of them as the roots of a mushroom.

In a five-day process, Ecovative can grow mycelia into all-natural packaging. Better yet, mycelia don’t need water or light to curl and coil into a dense, customizable form that packs eight miles of fibers into each cubic inch of material.

The other major selling point for the mushroom-based materials is that they grow in agricultural waste streams that can be adapted to regional sources. Corn stalks can be used in the Midwest, but a factory in China could use castoffs from rice production. The mycelia grows throughout the organic mass until the mold is filled, and then Ecovative heats the material to stop growth.

The company won an EPA Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant in 2009, two years after co-founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre started out. It is also one of the new SBIR awardees announced today, each another potential success story. (Read Ecovative’s winning research proposal: Growth of a Fungal Biopolymer to Displace Common Synthetic Polymers and Exotic Wood.)

“EPA was first to take the leap and validate this tech,” said McIntyre, the company’s chief scientist.

“The EPA SBIR was really critical for our early stage of development for several reasons. One of the most important was the peer-reviewed validation. And the funding really supported early-stage efforts in moving from the lab bench to a commercially viable prototype production line.”

Bayer, the company’s CEO, recently told The New Yorker that Ecovative aspires to be the new Dow or Dupont. McIntyre said those companies represent ubiquity for consumer products.

“We’d like to be the same,” he said. “We want to have the broadest impact possible in terms of providing environmentally friendly solutions.”

McIntyre and Bayer started small, but their company now employs 54 full-time workers overseeing projects such as new construction materials, opportunities in the automotive market, and a way to replace common plastics in packaging. The work has attracted more EPA SBIR contracts and other awards.

In May, the Small Business Administration recognized Ecovative with the Tibbetts Award, which highlights the best SBIR projects each year. The three criteria for the Tibbetts are technical innovation, business impact and broader social and economic benefit.

Mushroom materials are innovative, durable alternatives to products we often use but rarely think about. In fact, there’s a chance parts of your next house might be grown instead of fabricated or built, adding a new twist to living in harmony with nature.

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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