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EPA's Sustainable Design Competition Winner - University of Arizona

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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.

In this podcast, we’ll meet one of the winning teams from this year’s P3 student design competition. P3 stands for people, prosperity and the planet, and students from any U.S. college or university can participate. EPA sponsors the competition to challenge students to work together in interdisciplinary teams, to design and build sustainable technologies that improve quality of life, promote economic development, and protect the environment.

This team from the University of Arizona in Tucson developed a new food production system that integrates aquaculture and agriculture. Graduate student Kyle VanderLugt explains:

VANDERLUGT: “This is a sustainable and combined system in which we combine aquaculture, the production of fish, with agriculture, the traditional farming approach with land-based agriculture. So we use the water in which the fish are growing, which is rich in nutrients, and we use that water to irrigate plants. So the nutrients which are contained in the aquaculture effluent are utilized by the plants for growth.”

LACAPRA: In this recirculating system, the plants are grown in pots, and any excess water can be recollected after it drains down through the soil.

VANDERLUGT: “And in that process the water also becomes purified, and you can pump it back into the aquaculture tanks to conserve water […] So really there’s no contamination issues, or surface runoff issues such as you would see with agriculture.”

LACAPRA: The team is working with the rural community of Tabasco, Mexico, to implement the system. Team member Raphael Martinez did his Master’s thesis on aquaculture production in Tabasco. He highlights another environmental benefit of the project:

MARTINEZ: “We are avoiding rural communities to use fertilizers. Because you know, there is a lot of use of fertilizers over there, so people use a lot of chemicals. In this way we are producing organic – we can say that we are producing organic products, and people can understand […] to avoid the use of chemicals in food crops.”

LACAPRA: I caught up with the University of Arizona students again at the P3 awards ceremony, where EPA Acting Science Advisor Kevin Teichman announced the winning teams:

TEICHMAN: “The sixth and final P3 award goes to the University of Arizona, for Development of Sustainable Integrated Aquaculture Systems with Assessment of Environmental, Social, and Economic Implications.” [APPLAUSE]

LACAPRA: Kyle VanderLugt says he really appreciates the interdisciplinary aspects of the P3 competition.

VANDERLUGT: “We got to work outside of our disciplines, business working with scientists, scientists working with businesses, and talking with other researchers in other disciplines that were presenting here today, even those who didn’t win. We’re going to contact these researchers in the future, and I think that’s a great opportunity.”

LACAPRA: You can learn more about the University of Arizona’s aquaculture project on our website, at epa.gov/P3.

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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