EPA funds student bioenergy projects under P3 program

By Erin Voegele | October 23, 2014

The U.S. EPA recently awarded funding to 42 student teams to pursue projects that deliver sustainable, alternative approaches to address environmental problems as part of its People, Prosperity and Plant (P3) program. Several of selected teams’ projects focus on bioenergy. Each team is eligible to receive up to $15,000.

“Each year, the projects and designs created by the P3 teams surpass expectations,” said Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “These students are creating sustainable solutions for our everyday needs, addressing some of the United States’ most challenging environmental issues and helping create a vibrant, growing economy.”

Funding for P3 projects is divided up into two phases. In the first phase, student teams submit a proposal for a project. If selected, they complete with other Phase 1 winners at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. At the expo, teams compete for Phase II funding of up to $75,000.

This is the eleventh year of the EPA’s P3 program. Since 2004, the initiative has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing more than $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students. According to the EPA, past P3 teams have used their winnings to form small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Phase 1 2014-’15 P3 grant recipients pursuing bioenergy projects include:

Appalachian State University: Biomass greenhouse heating systems to extend growing seasons for resource-limited farmers. This project is focused on one aspect of a holistic approach to best practices for farming in Appalachia. Most Appalachian farms are small and family-owned, which means growers struggle to maintain profitability with limited acreage, low profit margins and short growing seasons. Many farmers dedicate a portion of acreage to greenhouse production in order to extend the growing season. The purpose of the project is to build and test an inexpensive, efficient biomass heat delivery systems for a greenhouse in order to demonstrate how to improve productivity on farms in Appalachia and other cold mountainous regions.

Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Community-scale gasification and biochar retort hubs for rural areas; a “closed loop” system for sustainable agriculture and bioenergy. The team proposes to develop screening-level metrics to evaluate the role physical, biological, operational and economic factors of biochar and power cogeneration play in advancing the development of community-scale gasification hubs in rural areas.

Bridgewater State College: Southeastern Massachusetts Student Network for Biodiesel Research and Education. Students will apply sustainability and green chemistry principles to examine the efficiency of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, identify limitations and propose potential solutions. A research and education plan will be developed through a Biodiesel Research and Education Network with students from BSU, community colleges and high schools.

Columbus State University: Technological and economic sustainability of coupling wastewater algal treatment and biogas production. The team aims to create a treatment method for wastewater that removes nutrients and enables biofuel production. The objective is to create an economic model to estimate the dollar value of algae treatment systems and evaluate how to set up these systems to reduce their economics costs.

Eastern Illinois University: Fungi for bioenergy; development of a sustainable biomass pretreatment system. The team will explore the efficacy of using common white-rot fungus to pretreat residual biomass and dedicated energy crops to enable biofuel production. While the pretreatment approach has been shown to be effective at laboratory scale, it must be explored at demonstration-scale.

Johns Hopkins University, Clean Green Chesapeake, Van Ert, Nemoto and Associates Consulting, HydroMentia: Sustainable algae biofuels solution, sourcing carbon and recycling nutrients from waste treatment processing. The project addresses the sustainability of energy production and water treatment by applying a three-stage process that utilizes waste run-off as nutrients to generate sugar-rich substrates for the generation of advanced biofuels using enhanced algal bioprocessing.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry: Developing a vacuum distillation-acid absorption system for recovery of ammonia from dairy manure. The team aims to develop a technology that couples vacuum distillation and acid absorption to sustainably recover ammonia from anaerobically digested and undigested diary manure. The project calls for the construction of a pilot-scale system and a farm-scale economic analysis of the technology across its lifecycle.

University of California – Davis: Enrichment of microbial communities for biogas production in high-solids environments. The team proposes to perform laboratory experiments to enrich, characterize and preserve a microbial community capable of high-solids anaerobic digestion from manure.

University of Missouri: Feasibility and life cycle assessment of anaerobic co-digestion of campus food waste and swine manure. The team aims to determine the economic and engineering feasibility of using anaerobic digestion to treat a mix of food waste and swine manure. The project also aims to quantify sustainability metrics, including energy use, greenhouse gases and nutrients recovered.

Western Washington University: Biomethane for transportation; upgrading dairy anaerobic biogas using microbial mats. The team aims to demonstrate the viability of using biogas derived from anaerobic digestions on dairy farms.

A full list of selected projects is available on the EPA website. http://www.epa.gov/ncer/p3/current/