Students Plant a Green Future for the Environment and the Economy

Oct. 12, 2006

Think money doesn’t grow on trees? Take a closer look at projects being done by 42 student design teams, who received $420,000 in grants from the U.S. EPA to research and develop sustainable environmental solutions.

Students at Southern Illinois University will develop green roofs made of plants for improved storm water management, increased energy conservation, reduced urban heat island effects and extended roof life—all of which means saving dollars. Students at the University of Tennessee will test whether algae (one-celled plants) can generate enough hydrogen energy in a biohydrogen facility to produce transportation fuel for a city of 100,000 people.

Started in 2004, the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) sustainability design competition encourages university teams to develop projects that are environmentally protective, efficiently use natural resources and are economically competitive.

Sustainable designs prove that providing a higher quality of life and protecting the planet are compatible with economic prosperity. Businesses are taking notice—last year, four P3 design projects became new commercial ventures.

“Since 2004, we’ve looked forward to each year’s crop of bright ideas. These projects show that environmental solutions and economic growth go hand in hand,” said George Gray, assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development. “In just two short years, four student projects have borne out this promise by becoming new businesses with clients. We’re extremely proud of these young people and positive steps they're taking to improve our world.”

A P3 winner in 2005 from Oberlin College designed a system to monitor energy and water use in colleges with easy-to-read, real-time data on energy at the dormitory level, allowing the school to reduce energy costs by pinpointing areas of overuse. This project is now a small business with clients that include Southface in Atlanta, Ga.; The Zenergy Group in Orlando, Fla.; Duke University; Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and others.

Another 2005 P3 Award winner from the University of California at Berkeley developed a technology that households can use to disinfect contaminated water. The team has been working with the Mexican Institute of Water Technology and the National Council for the Promotion of Education in Mexico and Haiti Outreach: Pwoje Espwa (HOPE) in Haiti.

There will be demonstrations of student projects on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in April when the 42 teams will compete for the EPA’s P3 Award. The P3 award is given to the highest-rated student designs. The award includes additional funding up to $75,000 that enables the teams to further develop their designs for sustainability, test their projects in the field and move the designs to the marketplace. The National Academy of Engineering, part of the National Academies, will convene a panel to evaluate and recommend the award winners who will be chosen by the EPA.

EPA is now requesting applications for the 2007 P3 National Student Design Competition for Sustainability. EPA plans to award up to 50 grants to student teams for a maximum of $10,000 in the autumn of 2007. The P3 competition is open to teams of students attending colleges, universities and other post-secondary educational institutions. Interdisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged, including representatives from multiple engineering departments and/or departments such as chemistry, architecture, industrial design, economics, policy, social sciences and business.

Source: EPA