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Investing in a Sustainable Future

EPA's award programs lead to innovative solutions and green jobs.

Four students standing next to prototype design.

Two of EPA's signature awards programs – the People, Prosperity, and Planet (P3) Student Design Competition for Sustainability and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program – have furthered the Agency's goal to advance innovation in the name of a cleaner environment and have also led to job growth.

P3 is a college competition that promotes solutions for a sustainable future. In the first phase of the competition, student teams are awarded a grant to develop a prototype technology designed to solve an environmental challenge in a sustainable way. The student teams bring what they have developed to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, DC, to compete for even larger grants.

Winning teams receive additional ("phase II") grants that allow them to further their designs and bring them to the marketplace. Past winners have translated their success into the real world by starting small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The impact of those success stories can be seen in the form of new jobs and a cleaner environment.

A 2009 winning P3 team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently established STG International Exit EPA Disclaimer, a nonprofit organization. The team, led by engineering students, designed a solar power generator that produces electricity using heat rather than photovoltaic cells.

STG International's goal is to install this energy technology in underserved communities throughout the world. So far, they have installed generators at four field sites – at Eckerd College in Florida, and at a school, a health clinic, and a village power plant located in rural southern Africa. The organization employed seven people in 2011, and the organization's work was featured in Discover Magazine and has won several awards including the ASME IShow, National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance Award, and the MIT 100K 20 Year Award.

Mentor and students sitting at design expo table.

The 2009 MIT team and their mentor at the National Sustainable Design Expo in DC.

Another P3 award-winning team started the nonprofit organization One Earth Design (OED) Exit EPA Disclaimer. This team won the P3 award in 2010 and was made up of students from Harvard University, MIT, and two Chinese universities.

These students collaborated to design and build Solsource 3-in-1, a solar powered device that cooks, provides heat, and generates electricity. Co-designed with rural communities in the Himalayas, Solsource 3-in-1 eliminates the need to burn fossil fuel and cuts down air pollution associated with traditional technologies.

OED employed 29 people in 2011, and their work has been recognized by the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, St. Andrews Prize for the Environment, MIT $100k Competition, Clinton Global Initiative, Lemelson Foundation, Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, and Yunus Innovation Challenge.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and students examine a parabolic solar cooker.

The Solsource 3-in-1 team at the National Sustainable Design Expo with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

EPA's SBIR program provides awards to small businesses to translate innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems. EPA is one of 11 federal agencies that participate in the SBIR program established by the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982.

One of EPA's biggest SBIR successes is that of Ecovative Design LLC (Ecovative) Exit EPA Disclaimer, a small business that creates renewable and biodegradable insulation and packaging materials. With support from SBIR, Ecovative developed two materials: MycoBond™, a basic material to replace hydrocarbon-derived synthetics in packaging (e.g. styrofoam), and Greensulate™, an insulating application of MycoBond™. Both materials are created by using technology that begins with growing a common white fungus on low-value agricultural byproducts (such as cottonseed hulls), which are difficult to dispose of and degrade. This technology requires 10 times less energy and emits 5 times less CO2 than petroleum-derived equivalents. Ecovative has taken this technology to the market and business is booming! They are even opening another manufacturing facility this summer.

Another successful SBIR winner, Advanced Technology Materials, Inc. (ATMI), recently won the prestigious Tibbetts Award Exit EPA Disclaimer from the Small Business Administration (SBA). ATMI won this award for the critical role they play in research and development and for their success in driving innovation and creating new jobs.

ATMI was also inducted into the Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) Hall of Fame based on its development of the Novapure Dry Scrubber System. This System uses an innovative solid scrubber material with 30 times the capacity of activated carbon, designed especially to reduce toxic air emissions from the semiconductor industry. ATMI is a great example of a company working to improve the environment while also strengthening our economy by creating jobs.

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