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Students Step it up for Sustainability

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By EPA Science Writers' Circle

What if you could conceive of a new way to construct buildings that would allow you to utilize environmentally friendly materials without compromising structural integrity? At the same time, the materials also do a better job of regulating the building’s heating and cooling systems, thus conserving energy and saving money. And on top of all that, because some of the design materials come from agricultural fibers and recyclable polymers they not only create a new market for agriculture, but they reuse products that would otherwise go to waste.

A design team from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has developed just such a proposal, which has been chosen as one of six winners of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s second annual People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) competition.

The national competition featured sustainability design concepts developed by nearly 50 university teams from around the country that were composed of more than 350 students and advisors. The winners were chosen for the creativity and the utility of their sustainability designs. Sponsored by the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the competition is aimed at finding creative paths to sustainability – the achievement of economic prosperity, environmental responsibility and social fairness.

Also recognized for their projects:

  • Appalachian State University - Closing the Biodiesel Loop, focused on community based production of a fuel from recycled vegetable oil. The university’s team drove to the Washington, D.C. competition in a bus that was powered by this alternative fuel.
  • Lafayette College - Sustainable Water Systems in Honduras, looked at a simple method to remove inorganic arsenic from ground water sources.
  • Portland State University - WISE, an interactive Web site for educators and students on a holistic or whole systems approach to sustainable development guided by the WISE owl.
  • Stanford University - The Green Dorm, a sustainable university facility for residential, laboratory and commons space.
  • University of Massachusetts at Lowell - Biocatalytic Polymerization of Naturally Occurring Green Tea Flavanoids for Cancer, studied cancer treatment drugs using naturally occurring compounds produced through environmentally friendly methods.

The winners each received awards of up to $75,000, which can be used to advance their research in the hopes of finding a commercial application for their work. Four of the winners from the original competition in 2005 have already been successful in transforming their designs into small business ventures.

This year’s P3 Awards competition was held at EPA's first National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The students exhibited their design projects while companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies displayed their commercially successful sustainable technologies.

More than 45 partners in the federal government, industry and scientific and professional societies provided support for the competition.

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Author EPA ScienceWriters' Circle | Editor Aaron Ferster

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