Student Teams Lead Green Technology Research

The P3 Award, an EPA-sponsored competition that seeks to benefit people, prosperity, and the planet, is harnessing the enthusiasm and research power of students to get green innovations out into the market. Now in its sixth year, the P3 Award has announced its 2008 winners, and their projects are overwhelmingly focused on bringing cleaner technology to the developing world.

The competition, which requires that applicants be willing to work for almost two years on their projects, starts with a lengthy application and review process. The winning teams are then given $10,000 and eight months to develop their project before the P3 Award is given to a single team, which receives an additional $75,000 of funding to implement their designs in the field and move them to the marketplace.

The EPA considers applications that address a wide range of categories, including green engineering, water conservation and access, climate protection, renewable energy and transportation and mobility strategies. Some projects combine more than one, such as an MIT team’s design for a cogeneration plant that combines solar thermal, biogas, and CO2 sequestering technologies in an attempt to produce energy more effectively than other cogen systems, while also capturing carbon emissions. According to the project’s abstract, this system will be designed with “widely available materials to promote local manufacture, distribution, and dissemination by energy entrepreneurs in the developing world.”

Several of the other project proposals focus on third world countries, which typically lack the funding to explore and use technologies that would reduce waste and climate impact. Chris Zarba, Deputy Director of the National Center for Environmental Research, says that they didn’t anticipate how many design submissions would focus on the developing world. “We’re adding a separate category for them in coming years,” he says.

The anaerobic digester from Fort Lewis College students fits the bill: it is intended to improve sanitation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and comes with a built-in burner system that will hopefully reduce demand for wood and charcoal for cooking in villages in the mountains of central Ecuador, where deforestation is increasingly a problem.

“We submitted our first proposal two years ago with our Engineers without Borders chapter, but it was originally just a more efficient oven and the design didn’t address clean energy,” says Laurie Williams, Assistant Professor of Engineering at Fort Lewis College and the faulty director of the P3 project. “We’re trying to tackle this developing world issue of sustainability. The indoor fire environment for these people in Ecuador is really unhealthy and they’re also deforesting the area. By using the materials people have locally, we are solving local problems.”

Ultimately, the goal of the P3 competition is to make green technological benefits available to as many people as possible. “We’ve seen the interest and enthusiasm of [the P3 project] grow every year. It’s exciting to see how enthusiastic these students get,” says Zarba. “It isn’t just about sustainable ideas, the whole goal is to bring these new ideas to market. It’s not enough to have a good idea on the shelf. It needs to be out there working.”



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Published: December 30, 2008