A Summit to Remember

By Dr. Ellen Gilinsky

Put together innovation and incentive, mix with brain power and competitive drive, and you get creative solutions to a major water quality challenge while creating economic benefits at the same time.

I’ve spent much of my career tackling nutrient pollution. During that time, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering our waterways has increased dramatically, making nutrient pollution one of the most urgent and costly environmental problems facing the U.S. today. Technological innovation has the potential to play a major role in mitigating nutrient pollution while also creating economic benefits for livestock producers.

In November 2015, EPA partnered with pork and dairy producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and environmental and scientific experts to launch the Nutrient Recycling Challenge—a competition to find affordable technologies that can help farmers manage nutrients, create valuable products, and protect the environment. EPA received 75 concept papers from around the world, and selected 34 submissions to proceed to Phase II of the challenge.

The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well at a March 30th summit held at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building to honor innovators selected to move to Phase II, and provide a forum for them to network with each other. At this summit, I had the pleasure of recognizing 10 cash prize winners in the challenge. Many of the industries potentially interested in using the technologies that emerge in the Nutrient Recycling Challenge were also present. There was much chatter between innovators and end users, looking to capitalize on synergies and develop even better prototypes that could work for real-world producers. Innovators walked away from the summit with fresh ideas to refine their concepts and new allies who can help bring their ideas to fruition, and ultimately to the market.

As exciting as the innovators and their ideas were, I was also struck by the excitement and energy of the EPA professional staff who organized this competition. This group of talented, young EPA engineers, scientists, and environmental specialists are the future of our Agency, as well as the environmental movement in general. They are using new and modern tools that harness the power of rapid, global communication with computer modeling and forecasting to come up with new solutions for age old environmental challenges. Our young EPA professionals have been the driving force behind this exciting initiative. Their drive and dedication, coupled with the talent of innovators, is a surefire recipe for success.

About the author: Dr. Ellen Gilinsky is the Senior Policy Advisor in EPA’s Office of Water. Dr. Gilinsky addresses policy and technical issues related to all EPA Water programs, with an emphasis on science, water quality and state programs.

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.

Behind the Nutrient Recycling Challenge

By Joseph Ziobro

It’s pretty great when your job involves finding the cutting edge of innovation. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking into technologies that make it easier for livestock producers to manage manure, protect water quality, and create new sources of revenue.

One area where we see promise is in nutrient recovery technologies. These technologies extract nutrients from manure and create fertilizer products that can be applied more precisely to crops and affordably transported greater distances. Thousands of livestock producers are asking for these technologies, but they are still not efficient enough to be in wide use.

That’s where innovation challenges come in. My teammate, Hema Subramanian, and I reached out to key players in manure management and asked, “What can we do together to get producers the technologies they want, and protect water quality?” People were extremely excited, so we convened a planning committee with dairy and pork producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists and environmental experts.

Together, we identified barriers to technology adoption and began crafting a prize competition to overcome those barriers. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge was born.

In a nutshell, we’re asking innovators to develop better and cheaper nutrient recovery technologies. A major draw of prize competitions is that they reach innovators from different backgrounds who can bring fresh perspectives to the table. We want outside-the-box thinking from innovators of all stripes — tenured scientists or weekend garage tinkerers.

Phase I of the Challenge is open now through Jan. 15, and we are looking for your concept papers describing technology ideas. Later in 2016, EPA and partners will identify the most promising entries and support semi-finalists as they turn their concepts into working technologies.

EPA is committed to building relationships with the livestock industry through partnerships. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge exemplifies this collaborative approach. Our starting point is that EPA and farmers both want healthy waters and prosperous agriculture. And we’re looking for your innovative ideas to help us get there.

For more information and to enter, go to www.nutrientrecyclingchallenge.org.

About the author: Joseph Ziobro is a physical scientist in the Rural Branch of the Water Permits Division at EPA. Joseph supports the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program as well as voluntary initiatives with the livestock industry.

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.