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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: President Obama Honors the Nation’s Cutting-Edge Scientists and Engineers

A group of leading researchers—including EPA’s own Dr. Tom Purucker—we were honored today at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

The following is reposted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

A group of leading researchers were honored today at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

After receiving their awards in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture with agency officials, friends, and relatives—a ceremony keynoted by OSTP Director John Holdren—the group of 102 ambitious scientists and engineers were greeted at the White House by President Obama who thanked them for their outstanding achievements.

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo)

President Barack Obama talks with the PECASE recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The PECASE recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

PECASE awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. The winners represent outstanding examples of American creativity across a diverse span of issues—from adding to our understanding of the most potent contributors to climate change to unlocking secrets to some of the most pressing medical challenges of our time to mentoring students and conducting academic outreach to increase minority representation in science fields.

For example, Derek Paley, Willis H. Young Jr. Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Education at the University of Maryland, is studying how fish use sensory organs to perceive their environment in order to build an artificial sensing and control system that will allow underwater vehicles to navigate autonomously.

Or consider PECASE winner Dr. Young Shin Kim, an associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, who is being awarded for studying the role of environmental risks and gene-environmental interaction in increasing Autism Spectrum Disorder prevalence.

Other winners include Dr. Lucy E. Cohan with the Central Intelligence Agency, who is advancing the design and modeling of the next generation of space telescopes by employing lightweight, active mirror technologies, or Dr. Gavin Peter Hayes with the U.S. Geological Survey, whose research is helping to transform our understanding of earthquake processes and advance real-time response activities when major earthquakes occur.

This is just a snapshot of this group’s incredible accomplishments. Other PECASE recipients are studying black holes in space, using robots to advance student engagement in science, and examining the brain processes behind language and literacy acquisition. Regardless of their area of research, all have demonstrated remarkable success in the lab. Their achievements are paving the way for exciting and important advances and inspiring the next generation of researchers, makers, and innovators. The full list of PECASE awardees can be found here.

With this much progress at this early stage of their careers, we can expect even greater things from these leading lights in the years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Join an Open-source Apps Challenge This Weekend

By Darshan Karwat

Announcement for Baltimore-Washington Space Apps ChallengeWhen I attended a Google Solve For <X> event at the US Capitol building on a chilly afternoon last fall, I did not expect to come away with a seed of an idea that would sprout into one of my major projects here at EPA. Innovative collaborations are sparked in unexpected places.

On that afternoon I met Jenn Gustetic—a fellow aerospace engineer and the Prizes and Challenges Program Executive in the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA—who said, “You should propose a challenge for the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.”

“Why not?” I thought.

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge is a two-day, worldwide, collaborative problem-solving event that brings the public, community groups, and government agencies together to produce open-source solutions. This year’s event is this weekend, April 12-13.  One of the challenge themes this year is Earth Watch.

“How cool,” I thought.  “How cool,” I still think.

I started with initial conversations with scientists and colleagues from the United States Global Change Research Program. Those conversations generated a host of ideas for challenges.

Over the past few months, we’ve whittled the possible ideas down to Cool It! and Community Visions of Climate Adaptation —  two of the twenty final Earth Watch challenges, and two of the six climate-related challenges presented on President Obama’s data.gov website.

Cool It! brings together hardware builders, coders, engineers, social scientists, teachers, and community members to create sensor kits that measure temperature and relative humidity, in several locations, in real time. The data they collect will be used  to educate the community about the urban heat island effect, weather, and climate.

Public Lab, a non-profit organization that develops and applies open-source tools for environmental education, will provide expertise and resources for the Cool It! projects after the end of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge. With the urban heat island affect disproportionately burdening underserved communities, Public Lab is the perfect organization to link Cool It! and community science with positive environmental outcomes for all.

By using the latest scientific data from sources like the 2009 National Climate Assessment, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, or the 2012 EPA Climate Indicators Report, builders working on Community Visions of Climate Adaptation will create apps, web interactives, maps, 3D models, and visualizations to help communities across the country adapt to a changing climate. People who sign up for this project will work with community residents, urban planners, and city officials to create climate adaptation plans that reflect community needs for the coming decades.

The Space Apps Challenge provides a working model of community collaboration, science, and education that addresses important environmental issues and promotes technological development to serve the needs of disadvantaged populations.

Attend and support a Space Apps staging location close to where you are this weekend, or participate remotely. To infinity and beyond!…and back down to Earth.

About the author: Darshan Karwat is an American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellow with the Innovation Team in the Office of Research and Development.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

My Air, My Health – My Experience at Health Datapalooza

Dot Kelly, a member of the winning team in the My Air, My Health challenge, recently shared a blog post on “Health Datapalooza.” It is reposted below. 

My Air, My Health graphic identifierIt was about this time last year that my colleagues and I were in the thick of preparing for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Human Health Services (HHS) My Air, My Health Challenge. The Challenge called upon innovators nationwide to design a small, low-cost sensor that integrated air quality measurements with health data such as heart rate and breathing. This was to help inform the EPA and HHS’ collective work to better understand the impacts of harmful air pollution on people’s health.

In other words, the competition called for a solution that would move us all toward a future in which powerful, affordable and portable sensors provide a rich awareness of environmental quality, moment-to-moment physiological changes, and long-term health outcomes.

Read the rest of the post.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Challenges and Combined Sewer Overflows

By Ryan Connair

sewer overflowing

Overflows happen when combined sewers are overwhelmed by heavy rain.

Every year, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) release about 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater into lakes, streams, and rivers across the United States. CSOs happen when combined sewers—which carry both stormwater and raw sewage—are overwhelmed by heavy rain and flow into local waterways.

Unfortunately, this situation is hard to fix. Sewer utilities have thousands of miles of pipes to manage, so they often lack the resources to continuously monitor CSO activity or precisely measure how much wastewater is being discharged into the environment.  A low-cost, wireless sensor could change all that, though.

To find such a sensor, EPA partnered with Confluence—a water technology cluster in the southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana area—to issue an open innovation challenge. Open innovation challenges offer awards for solutions that address a problem and draw in the best ideas from around the world.

The challenge was issued in July 2013 through Cincinnati Innovates and InnoCentive, who recently announced the winners.

First prize of $6,000 was awarded to Krishna Priya, from India, with prizes of $2,000 each going to Tamus Szalay (USA) and Andre Villemaire (Canada). Priya’s winning solution combined water level and ultrasonic sensors with a cellphone radio to create a prototype device that monitors water level and flow. During a CSO event, the system can send data back to utilities via text message.

“Real-time information provides the ability to plan for the events, respond quickly to equipment malfunction, and assure control systems are operating properly,” said Melissa Gatterdam, Superintendent of Watershed Operations at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC).

But the challenge goes beyond identifying a winning idea, it also involves a community. In this case, the community is Greater Cincinnati. Two local utilities—MSDGC and Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky (SD1)—and a local branch of the technical consulting firm Stantec provided judges for the contest. The two utilities have expressed interest in testing the prize-winning ideas identified by the competition.

“EPA has displayed exceptional leadership with this challenge, which has catalyzed the difficult process of transferring new ideas into new technologies that are ready for the marketplace,” said Chris Kaeff, Regulatory Reporting and Wet Weather Coordinator for SD1.

“The public utility stands to gain new technology that improves operational efficiency,” Kaeff said. “The entrepreneur gains a pathway to impact the market. The venture capitalist gains an opportunity for investment. And the federal regulatory and research agency moves closer to its goal of ensuring compliance.”

Partnering to issue the challenge, EPA was able to accomplish two goals: the challenge identified a solution to a pressing environmental issue and connected the winners to utilities who can put their ideas into practice by serving as test beds for the technology and potential buyers in the market for the finished solution.

About the author: Ryan Connair works with EPA’s Environmental Technology Innovation Clusters Program as a communications contractor.

Editor’s Note:

Read more about EPA research exploring ways to reduce stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows:

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Taking a Page from Nature’s Playbook: Innovation for Human Health

By Dustin Renwick

Illustration of lungsProtecting human health through chemical safety remains a priority for EPA, but it’s difficult and expensive to test all the 83,000 or so chemicals currently listed or registered for use.

That’s where innovation comes in. With new tools and models, EPA researchers aim to dramatically increase the pace of research and screening methods to provide the best information on how chemicals might affect us wherever we encounter them.

Researchers need to understand how chemicals affect the human body. One method of testing toxic effects of aerosols (chemicals and other pollutants in the air) uses human cells submerged in liquid at the bottom of a well plate. That means scientists have to capture pollutants and pipette them into the liquid medium to reach the cells for testing.

But human breathing takes place in a more dynamic environment. Our respiratory system operates with only a thin liquid layer of mucus separating lung cells from air.

Amy Wang, an EPA biologist, and her Pathfinder Innovation Project (PIP) team invented a system that mimics how our airway cells come in contact with air pollutants.

The system, which has progressed through several prototypes, can generate and control aerosols in multiple wells in one plate at the same time.

“The great advantage of this system is you expose the cells to aerosols in a way similar to the complex conditions in the human lungs,” Wang said.

The team’s invention has the potential to allow researchers to test multiple compounds in airborne mixtures, a scenario that more closely represents how people come in contact with chemicals outside a laboratory setting.

“We could take combustion emissions from an engine and expose cells directly at concentrations we choose,” Wang said. “The integrity of that emission would be maintained – all the vapors, all the gases, all the aerosols produced.”

Wang said the system helps eliminate variables that can sometimes hinder traditional testing that uses cells under a column of liquid. Additionally, the new system will allow scientists to run tests more rapidly.

Next-generation systems like the one Wang and her team created can produce enormous amounts of data. Any research EPA conducts depends on high-quality data, and EPA has released lots of it as part of an initiative called ToxCast.

You can use the interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability Dashboards to view toxicity data for 1,800 chemicals.

And as part of the ToxCast project, we’ve launched a series of data challenges. If you want to help find new ways to use EPA data, check out the descriptions and sign up to submit your ideas. The current challenge is open until January 19, and we need ideas to help create a strategic framework for using EPA data.

 

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A Streetcar Named…Green Infrastructure?

By Matt Colip

A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride.  But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.

I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.  The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James.  EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project.  This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water.  This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.

After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door.  It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!

It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too.  An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square.  This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.

The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.

Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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.

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