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Students from UMass/Lowell Win $15,000 EPA Grant for Innovative Technology Project

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BOSTON – A student research team from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell has been awarded $15,000 from the US Environmental Protection Agency to research a technology that would turn seafood shells and waste into fertilizer.

The UMass/Lowell team was among 31 student teams awarded a total of more than $463,000 through EPA's "People, Prosperity, and the Planet," or P3, grants program. These teams, made up of college students from across the country, are developing sustainable technologies to solve current environmental and public health challenges.

"This year's P3 teams are applying their classroom learning to create valuable, cutting-edge technologies," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "This next generation of scientists is designing sustainable solutions that will help protect public health and the environment and ensure America continues to lead the world in innovation and science for decades to come."

The student project from the UMass/Lowell research team, called "Green Fertilizers from Crustacean Shell Waste," will develop a hydrothermal reactor system that produces renewable fertilizers from seafood wastes, particularly the crustacean shell wastes widely available in New England.

"EPA's P3 funding helps smart, hardworking students learn while developing innovative technologies which promise to make a real difference," said Alexandra Dunn, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "These young scientists are demonstrating a commitment to finding real-world solutions to important issues."

Research at UMass/Lowell will be done to see if the proposed innovation works technically and is economically feasible. The cost of transporting crustacean shell waste to a landfill is a significant economic and environmental challenge for seafood processors in New England. At the same time, use of synthetic chemical fertilizers can be costly and can have environmental side effects. This project will attempt to create a hydrothermal process to address both problems. This research will use tomato plants to test the effectiveness of the biochar as fertilizer. Energy and economic analysis will help ensure the energy efficiency and economic feasibility of the innovation.

"This grant allows us to not only develop innovative technologies to simultaneously promote economic growth and global sustainability, but also create a platform for students from different backgrounds to work together as a team. I believe this is the best way to stimulate creative ideas," said Hsi-Wu Wong, a UMASS Lowell chemical engineering professor who worked with students on the project.

The awards announced this week were for Phase 1 grants. Funding for the P3 competition is divided into two phases. Teams selected for Phase I awards receive up to $15,000 to fund the proof of concept for their projects, which are then showcased at the National Sustainable Design Expo. The 2018 Expo is scheduled to be held April 7 and 8 at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. Phase I teams can compete for Phase II awards of up to $75,000 to further develop and implement their designs.

Projects from this year's P3 teams include innovative ideas like harnessing solar power to disinfect drinking water and using beetles to degrade Styrofoam waste. These students, who represent the future workforce in diverse scientific and engineering fields, are following in the footsteps of previous P3 teams. Some of these teams have gone on to start businesses based on ideas and products developed through their P3 project. For example, Sunn began as a team of students from Cornell University that won a P3 award in 2012 to design and test a Fiber Optic Hybrid Lighting system. Sunn now creates energy-efficient LED light fixtures and apps that mimic outdoor light, inside. In 2007, a P3 team from Drexel University developed a Bubble Column Reactor which used fatty acids gathered from grease-trap waste at wastewater management plants to create biodiesel. This technology formed the foundation for Environmental Fuel Research, LLC.

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Learn about the student teams and the projects of the 2017 Phase I winners:

For more information on the P3 Program, visit: