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Science Works: SBIR Program Overview

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MUSIC: "Science Works” theme music.

LACAPRA: Welcome to EPA’s “Science Works,” a podcast about how the EPA uses science to meet its mission to protect your health and environment. From “Science Works” at EPA, I’m Véronique LaCapra.

Today we’re going to hear about an EPA program that works with small businesses to develop innovative environmental technologies.

RICHARDS: The idea is to utilize the small business community’s wealth of knowledge and entrepreneurial ability to investigate new technologies in the small business community.

LACAPRA: April Richards is the Deputy Director of EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program – or SBIR. Congress established the SBIR program in 1982 to get small businesses more involved in federally-funded research. Today, eleven federal government agencies have SBIR programs.

RICHARDS: The way the program was designed is that each agency can use the SBIR program to help meet its mission.

LACAPRA: In EPA’s case, that means giving funds to small businesses to develop new technologies that help protect human health and the environment.

RICHARDS: The SBIR program is great because it lets the companies retain their intellectual property, which is really important, and it also does not require the small business to pay back any of the money to the government.

LACAPRA: Any U.S. business with fewer than 500 employees – and a great idea for a new environmental technology – can apply to the program.

RICHARDS: EPA funds a broad range of environmental technologies. In 2009, we are actually having a special focus on green building technologies.

LACAPRA: Green building technologies are materials or processes that make the construction, operation, maintenance, or demolition of a building more environmentally sustainable.

RICHARDS: So that would include things like new materials, materials that are maybe made from recycled content, or that are more durable, less toxic.

LACAPRA:  Technologies that improve indoor air quality would also fall under the category of green building.

RICHARDS: Another area that we haven’t really focused on in the past, that we’re going to include in this year’s topics, is greenhouse gases.

LACAPRA:  Greenhouse gas technologies could include new ways to detect or reduce the emissions of compounds like carbon dioxide and methane that contribute to global climate change.

Other EPA project needs for 2009, include technologies to monitor or improve air and water quality, develop biofuels, reduce waste, and decrease the environmental impact of manufacturing. EPA is also interested in funding projects that use nanotechnology to address environmental problems, or that strengthen homeland security.

In February 2009, Congress provided about 85 million dollars in new SBIR funding to the National Science Foundation. NSF is partnering with EPA to use some of these new funds to develop environmental technologies.

RICHARDS: So we’re really encouraging companies that are thinking about developing technologies to look at the National Science Foundation SBIR program for possible resources for their projects.

LACAPRA: EPA’s SBIR program has been remarkably successful. In the period between 1993 and 2004, close to 40 percent of the companies that progressed successfully through the program reported some level of commercial sales.

April Richards emphasizes another achievement of the SBIR program: its success in cultivating a group of small businesses focused on environmental innovation.

RICHARDS: Even if the research and development doesn’t lead directly to commercial sales, we’ve still got people thinking about the issues, and developing a platform technology that someone else might pick up, or someone else might license, so it’s really another way to look at the success of the program.

LACAPRA:  The next application period for EPA’s SBIR program opens on March 19th and runs through May 20th. You can find the application form and other information about the program on our website, at epa.gov/ncer/sbir. This webpage also includes a link to the SBIR program of the National Science Foundation.

MUSIC: "Science Works” theme music.

LACAPRA:  Thanks for listening to “Science Works,” a podcast series produced by EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Please check back again soon for our next program, at epa.gov/ncer.

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