Rice hull walls, algae oil & portable solar win at P3 competition

An artificial wetland to treat household gray water, structural wall panels made of rice hulls and algae biofuel systems number are the projects selected to receive grant money in a recent competition between university and college teams across the country.

A total of 15 teams participating in the People, Prosperity and the Planet competition, also known as P3, split $1 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The event was held at the 8th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The winners were selected from 45 teams. Their mission was to create innovative environmental solutions. Judging was provided by a panel of national experts who provided recommendations to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. EPA then selected the award-winning projects "from the most competitive pool of teams ever."

Many of the projects "have the potential to make significant impacts on our nation’s sustainable future and development of environmental technologies," says Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Research and Development, in a statement.

Each winning team will receive up to $90,000 to further develop the projects, "apply it to real world applications or move it to the marketplace." EPA officials say previous award winners have started successful businesses and are marketing the technologies domestically and internationally.

Winners of this year’s awards include:

Appalachian State University for developing an artificial wetland suitable for recycling of grey water from small businesses for immediate reuse.

Butte College for developing structural insulated panels for building construction using rice hulls, an abundant agricultural waste, as the primary raw material.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for designing a foldable solar power water purification system that can fit into a backpack for easy transport for use after a disaster affecting drinking ether supply.

Gonzaga University for developing a simple ventilation system for kitchens in rural dwellings using electrical power generated from thermoelectric cells driven by waste heat from cooking fires.

Oregon State University for raising awareness of pollution associated with the production and use of plastic mulch by farmers and testing alternative biodegradable mulch material.

Princeton University for developing, testing and deploying an electricity generation system that can be transported in a standard shipping container and rapidly set up in rural communities and post disaster areas.

Santa Clara University for developing a fuel cell capable of continuous sustainable energy supply to meet energy demands in rural communities in developing nations lacking reliable energy grids.

Southern Illinois University - Carbondale for developing methods to extract (recycle) metals from Coal Combustion Byproducts (CCB) to reduce mining and to produce a concrete with reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Engineering for studying ways to recover struvite, a slow release fertilizer, from digested animal manures and assesses its marketability.

Texas State University - San Marcos for converting rice husks, a byproducts of agriculture, into a starter material called lignocellulose for producing fabrics, biofuel and silica nanoparticles.

University of California, Riverside for designing a solar collector to heat ambient air for use in home appliances, such as clothes dryers and space heaters, to reduce home energy consumption.

University of Cincinnati for developing a pilot scale system to convert trap grease from restaurants, a waste set to landfill, to renewable biodiesel.

University of Connecticut for investigating ways to use local industrial byproducts such as steal slag and lime kiln dust to control erosion and to stabilize roads in Nicaragua.

University of Oklahoma, Norman for design, field-test, construct, instrument, analyze and document a habitat for humanity house built of compressed earth blocks, aka CEB.

Vanderbilt University for developing a biohyrid solar panel that substitutes a protein from spinach for rare metals (mined) and is capable of producing electricity.

Honorable mention winners include:

Christian Brothers University for developing technologies to improve energy efficiency in the building envelope of residencies in Memphis, Tenn., that focus on the thermal properties of materials, fire safety, material stability and cost.

Clarkson University for studying the feasibility of using waste heat and leachate from a solid waste management facility for energy to produce biodiesel from algae.

Drexel University for designing a pilot-scale reactor for local landfill that uses algae to produce biofuels from landfill leachate and gas.

Purdue University for designing, building and installing affordable ram pumps in Haiti to improve the availability of water for its citizens.

Rochester Institute of Technology for designing a hydrofoil system that harvests energy from a river while minimizing the harmful effects that dams create for river flow and sediments.

Santa Clara University for developing a high efficiency solar absorber/exchanger that can bring low cost energy to urbanites who have limited space for solar collectors.

Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville for evaluating the use of selenium-polluted plant waste materials harvested from phytoremediation sites to produce selenium-enriched edible mushrooms.

University of Texas at Austin for designing, constructing and testing vermicomposting (composting with worms) bins to improve public health in the Dominican Republic by reducing water contamination from organic waste.

University of California, Davis for designing and monitoring an affordable green roof technology that uses the shading from plant to cool roof surfaces and reduce peak electricity demand by up to 75 percent.

Missouri University of Science and Technology for developing a control system that opens and closes windows to maximize natural ventilation and save energy by sensing differencing in outdoor and indoor climate conditions.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for creating and implementing a point-of-view disinfectant for drinking water that is cheap, non-toxic and effective in reducing waterborne illness in developing nations.

Photo of Appalachian State University team.