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Gonzaga students among grant winners in U.S. EPA contest

Students prepare to accept awards for their project nominations in the EPA's 2008 P3 Program. Photo courtesy U.S. EPA.

Students prepare to accept awards for their project nominations in the EPA's 2008 P3 Program. Photo courtesy U.S. EPA. "

November 25, 2008 -- Could a cup of coffee jump start both you and your car in the morning? Is it possible to run a college dormitory in Africa on locally available fuel sources? Two universities are answering these questions, thanks to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, which demonstrates that protecting the environment can also be economically profitable. The P3 program also provides key technical assistance in moving the developed and developing world toward sustainability. EPA awarded 43 P3 grants for a total of $890,000 to student teams representing 40 universities in 24 states.

As part of the 43 P3 Phase I grants and six Phase II grants to winning teams from last year, a team from Appalachian State University is designing a coffee wastewater treatment system that produces ethanol and bio-gas for possible use as car fuels. Gonzaga University students are building an educational center and dormitory in Kenya, where students will learn how to implement sustainable water filtering technology and identify local energy sources.

"Sustainable development and reducing pollution is a global issue," EPA press officer Suzanne Ackerman said. "We all share the same planet, and research has shown air pollution circulates through the atmosphere around the world. Reducing greenhouse gases and protecting the ozone layer is also clearly a global issue. Whatever we can do to help lower [greenhouse gases] or air pollution in other countries ultimately benefits the U.S."

"The beauty of the People, Prosperity and the Planet program is that it harnesses one of our most abundant natural resources: student brain power," said Dr. George Gray, assistant administrator for EPAs Office of Research and Development. "Through innovation and creativity, these student teams turn environmental challenges into opportunities that protect the environment, build new businesses, and create new careers."

The University of California-Davis was one of the 2008 P3 Award winners. The students designed and constructed an efficient means of producing plastic from wastewater for Los Angeles, Calif. Bacteria used in wastewater treatment processes have been shown to store a compound that can be made into a biodegradable plastic within their cell walls. The production process to create it is less polluting than the process to create plastic from petrochemicals.

A team from Drexel University is testing new technology to reduce air conditioning bills in the summer, and if successful, will apply it to university dormitories. They are embedding small glass spheres in house paint that reflect away 50 percent of the heat from the sun usually absorbed by a house.

An American Association for the Advancement of Science panel will evaluate the projects and make recommendations to EPA, who will choose the winners. The P3 Award includes the possibility of additional funding up to $75,000 that gives students an opportunity to further develop their sustainable designs and move them to the marketplace. The next P3 Award Competition will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as part of the National Sustainable Design Expo, April 18-20, 2009.

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